By Carrie Carr
Copyright © 2014 by Carrie Carr
Disclaimers: The names, places and people are all from my little mind. Please don’t steal. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org - if you like it, cool. If not, I’m sorry. There’s a lot of good stuff out there.
Thanks to my beta, Kelly, for asking the right questions, and making this story better. This story is dedicated to my favorite oldsters. I love you both!
Most of all, thank you to my own Valentine, my beautiful wife, Jan. Always and forever, my love.
The hot wind blew across the gutted cotton fields, their stripped stalks the only thing left from an earlier harvest. The dirt settled against the sand-blasted buildings that dotted the landscape. The few acres of land that hadn’t been plowed were fenced off by electrically charged wire, which kept the assorted farm animals from escaping for fresher grazing.
Sand dunes drifted against the back side of the single story farmhouse, high enough that children could climb onto the roof, much to their mother’s dismay. The oldest, a quiet girl of eleven, sat on the edge of the roof and swung her legs back and forth. She brushed her short, brown hair out of her eyes and sighed. The morning sun was barely off the horizon, yet the West Texas heat was already oppressive.
The side door of the house slammed. “Emmy! Wanna play?” Her brother, four year-old Wesley, ran barefoot into the yard. “Emmy?” His curly, light brown hair stood up in every direction, a testament to his recent awakening.
Amelia Allen, who went by Emmy, pulled her feet up and scooted back so she couldn’t be seen.
“Emmy!” Wesley darted around to the back of the house. “I can see you, Emmy. Let me come up.”
“You’re too little. Go back inside.”
Emmy sighed. “You’re still in your jammies, Wes. Go inside.”
He put his hands on his hips. “You’re not ‘sposed to be up there, either. I’m gonna tell Mommy.”
“Brat.” Emmy scooted off the edge of the house and slid down the sand dune on her rear. She stood and dusted herself off. “There. Happy now?”
Wesley stuck his pinkie in his mouth and nodded. His light blue eyes twinkled at the victory.
Emmy walked around him. “You are such a brat.” She climbed the wooden steps to the kitchen door and went inside.
On the far side of the kitchen, a slender, dark-haired woman stood at the stove. She turned and gave her daughter a tired smile. “Where’s your brother?”
Mary Allen sighed. She appeared a decade older than her thirty years. “Could you please bring him in? Breakfast is almost ready.”
Emmy considered arguing the point, but the look on her mother’s face stopped her. “Yes, ma’am.” She opened the door and stuck her head out. “Wes! Mom wants you inside.”
“Emmy, please,” Mary scolded gently. She turned toward the hallway when her husband rushed into the kitchen, dressed but with shoes and socks dangling from one hand.
Thomas Allen tucked his white uniform shirt into his matching pants. A thin, black tie hung loosely from his open collar. He sat at the wooden table and donned his socks and shoes. The small patch over his left breast pocket showed his employer, Daisy Dairy, while his name was stitched on the opposite side. As a route salesman for the dairy, he often worked from sun up to sundown, leaving little time for his family. The creases in his tanned face aged him, making him look older than his wife, although they were the same age. His dark hair was short and greased down in a style out of the nineteen-fifties.
Mary brought him a mug of coffee. “I’ll have your breakfast ready in a minute, Tom.”
“I don’t have time. There’s a new route opening up, and if I’m there early enough, I have a good chance of getting it.”
She paused in the middle of the kitchen. “Another route? But you’re barely home as it is.”
“You know I’m trying to make supervisor, Mary. That’s a good raise.” He took a small sip of the coffee and set it on the table. “I’ve got to go. See you tonight.” He opened the door and almost ran into his daughter. “Emmy, I’ve got to run. Help your mother with Wes, okay?” He roughly messed up her hair before he jogged down the steps.
Emmy ran her hands through her hair and glowered. She couldn’t remember the last time she had spent any quality time with her father. For as long as she could remember, his work had always come before his family, although he often told her he worked hard for them. She pushed down her resentment and turned her attention to her little brother, who was using a spoon to dig in the dirt. “Wes, come on. Breakfast is almost ready.”
The wind howled against the house while Mary tried to sweep the excess dirt from the kitchen floor. The early afternoon was the only time she had to herself, after she put Wes down for his nap and Emmy played in her room. Mary brushed her hair from her eyes and blew out a tired breath. Her days were spent taking care of the children, tending the animals that her husband had wanted on the farm, and fighting the constant sand that crept into the house on a daily basis.
None of this was what she had expected when she had met the charismatic Tom Allen at a church social, twelve years previously. They had both just graduated from high school, and the dashing football star had a headful of great plans for the future. One night of indiscretion brought a hurried marriage, for which neither teen was prepared. Two children later, Mary felt alone and trapped, while her husband worked to chase his dreams of success.
The phone attached on the wall rang, startling Mary into action. She grabbed the handset and used her free hand to try and untangle the ten-foot curled cord. “Hello?” Her face brightened and a smile crept onto her face. “No, I’m not busy. Sure, that would be nice. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She replaced the receiver and looked around the kitchen. “Good enough.” She touched her hair and panicked. “I’m a mess!”
Mary hurried down the long hallway that attached the kitchen to the two bedrooms and single bathroom. She stopped and tapped on her daughter’s closed door. “Emmy, I hope your room is presentable. Rachel’s bringing the girls over.”
The door opened and Emmy appeared. “Both of them?”
“Yes, honey. Both of them. You know she can’t just leave Hannah behind.” Mary touched her daughter’s cheek. “I know she bothers you and Sharon, but please try to be nice.”
Emmy bit her lip. “I’ll try, mom. But she’s such a whiny brat.”
Mary laughed. “I’m sure you’ll survive. Now, straighten up your room while I get changed. Could you listen for the door?”
“Sure.” Emmy cocked her head. “Why are you changing? It’s just Mrs. Beene. She doesn’t care if you’ve got dust on your shirt.”
Mary looked down at her clothes. Her daughter was right. She had splotches of dust all over her black slacks and gray knit blouse. “Oh, no.” She took off down the hall, muttering to herself.
Mary heard her daughter’s laughter in the kitchen, which caused her to hasten her steps. She stopped at the doorway and took in the scene before her.
Rachel Whitaker-Beene was their nearest neighbor, and her closest friend. Unlike most of the women of the area, Rachel wore work jeans and denim shirts, just like her husband. They owned the farm to the west of the Allen’s, which was four times the size and much more prosperous. Rachel wore her blonde hair in a ponytail, with a ragged baseball cap that kept the hot sun off her face and out of her green eyes. She was almost as tall as Mary’s husband, and just as muscular. She and her husband, George, had worked the land for their entire fifteen-year marriage.
George, who was ten years Rachel’s senior, had taken Tom under his wing, and tried to teach the misplaced city dweller the ways of the land, with little success. They were good friends, however, and George could often be seen walking the fields with Tom. He had more patience for the younger man than he did for his wife or children. It was how his father was with him, and his father before him. George knew nothing else.
Rachel turned in her chair, as if she felt Mary’s presence. “It’s about time you got here, Mare. I was about to take off with the kids and join the circus.” She placed her ball cap onto Emmy’s head. “Ain’t that right, rugrat?”
Emmy giggled and raised the hat out of her eyes. “No, Mrs. Beene. You promised to take us swimming down at the creek.” She looked at her best friend, Sharon. “Right?”
“Yeah!” Sharon drummed her hands on the table. “That’s what you said, Mom.” She was a carbon copy of her father, with wavy, black hair and brown eyes. Her stocky body was more muscle than fat, but she was several inches shorter than Emmy.
“I don’t wanna swim in the nasty old creek,” Hannah whined. She was three years younger than the other girls, and her blonde hair was kept in pig tails that brushed her shoulders. “It’s stinky.”
Sharon frowned at her. “But it’s hot outside. What else can we do?”
Mary joined the others at the table. “How about if I turn on the sprinkler in the front yard? You could run and play in it, instead.”
The girls cheered and jumped up from the table. Emmy took Sharon’s hand. “Come on. We can change in my room.”
Hannah followed them. “Wait for me, guys!” Her high-pitched voice caused the adults to cringe.
“Hannah, inside voice, please,” Rachel belated reminded her. She looked at her friend and shrugged. “I’m sorry. I know that Wes usually naps around this time.”
Mary laughed and reached across the table to touch Rachel’s arm. “That’s all right, really. He’s pretty good about going back to sleep.” When Rachel looked at where her hand was, she jerked it away. “Um, would you like some coffee?”
Rachel pushed away from the table. “I’ll get it. After two years, you’d think I’d know where you keep stuff, Mare.” She busied herself by the coffee pot. “Want me to warm yours up?” she asked, when she turned back around.
Mary could think of several things her best friend could warm for her, but she was afraid to voice her thoughts. “I’m good, thanks.”
“You sure are,” Rachel whispered as she sat in the chair to the left of Mary.
“Mommy,” Wes whined, as he stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes. He held a bedraggled, crocheted baby afghan in one hand, allowing it to trail behind him on the floor.
“Come here, honey,” Mary opened her arms and pulled him into her lap. Wes rested his head against her chest and closed his eyes, while she gently stroked his mop of curls. Once he was asleep, she picked up her coffee mug and took a sip. “I’ll put him back down in a few minutes.”
Rachel brushed her hand along his back. “It’s all right. He’s not hurting a thing. I don’t think Hannah was ever this sweet,” she admitted.
Mary watched Rachel’s gentle touch. “I’m sure she was. You’re a wonderful mother.”
“Nah, I’m too rough around the edges. You know, I didn’t—”
The small herd of laughing girls cut off Rachel’s confession. Emmy was in the lead, wearing a one-piece bathing suit and waving a light blue bath towel. “Can I set up the sprinkler, Mom? I promise to keep it away from the driveway.”
Mary covered Wes’s exposed ear to keep from deafening him. “Sure. You girls try to stay out of the mud though, all right?” She stood after the girls went outside. “Let me put him back in his room, so we can visit.”
Rachel followed her down the hallway to Wes’s room, which was directly across from the master bedroom. She stood behind Mary and watched her tuck the little boy beneath his western-style comforter. “He’s such a cute little guy.”
Mary kissed the top of his head and motioned for Rachel to follow her. Once they were in the hall, she relaxed. “Sorry. I didn’t want him to wake up again. He’s been struggling with his allergies, and I really didn’t want to fight him on going outside with the girls.”
“I don’t blame you. It’s always hard to say no to them, isn’t it?” Rachel followed her back down the hall toward the kitchen. They each grabbed their coffee cup and headed through the attached living room to the front porch.
The wooden slats creaked under Rachel’s boots, before she took her usual place on one of the two lawn chairs that sat beside the door. She stretched her feet out and watched the three girls race in a wide circle, jumping through the oscillating sprinkler and squealing as they were sprayed. “Thanks for letting them play here. I really wasn’t looking forward to taking them to the creek.”
“It’s all right. I don’t like them at the creek, either. The snake we saw last time scared me out of all good sense.” Mary used the fingers on her right hand to brush the hair from her eyes. “I can’t believe it’s already this hot, and it’s barely past noon.”
Rachel glanced at her friend, who was busy watching the children play. “Gonna get worse before it gets better, I imagine.” When Mary continued to laugh at the girls, she continued to study the younger woman’s profile. Although she was only three years younger than Rachel, there was an air of innocence that Mary exuded. One of the many things that had attracted Rachel to her in the first place.
Rachel couldn’t remember when her feelings for Mary shifted from friendship to more, only that the last few months had been increasingly difficult. Spending hours every day with Mary while their children played together was torture, because she longed to tell her how she felt. Sometimes, she thought that maybe Mary felt the same. But those times were few and far between.
When the younger couple moved near their farm, Rachel had admired Tom for trying to make a go of it on his own farm. But, after seeing what the isolation and hard work had done to Mary, she wanted to whack the clueless man in the head for putting Mary through such hardship. That was enough to realize she had more than just friendship on her mind.
Making a living on the land was nearly impossible, especially on a small farm. If not for the eggs, pork and vegetables that she and George sold, they would have lost everything years ago. George. No one understood why she married the gruff, older man. She had never loved him, nor him, her. Theirs was more of a partnership. He needed someone strong and smart to help him with his farm, and she needed an escape from an abusive home. Over the years, their relationship had cooled. Before Hannah was born, they were in separate bedrooms, by mutual consent. It seemed to work for both of them.
Mary clapped her hands when Hannah did a cartwheel over the sprinkler, which brought Rachel out of her musing. Rachel smiled at the way the sun caressed her friend’s features, softening the lines that had recently appeared. “Beautiful,” she whispered.
“What?” Mary turned to Rachel and stared into her eyes for a long moment. “Um, did you say something?”
For a second, Rachel considered opening her heart to her friend. But the fear that it was one-sided kept her quiet.
The following week, Mary and her children came to the Beene farm to help Rachel find the four kittens that her outdoor cat had hidden in the hay barn. She needed to gather them up and take them to the vet for vaccinations, but couldn’t do it alone. Or so she said.
When they arrived, Rachel met them at the truck with a bright smile. “Hi. I really appreciate y’all coming over. George picked this week to visit his dad in Oklahoma City, so I would have been chasing cats for days.”
“Do we get to play with the kittens?” Emmy asked, when she got out of the truck. “Daddy said cats are only good for skinnin’, whatever that means.”
Mary got out and helped Wes, who quickly stumbled toward Rachel. “I’m sure he was teasing, honey.”
Rachel picked up Wes and settled him against her hip. “You’re almost too big to carry anymore, hot shot.” He giggled and snuggled against her. “The girls are already in the barn, guarding the exits for me. Now remember, don’t try to pick them up without help, okay? They’ll be scared and might bite or scratch you.”
“I remember, Mrs. Beene.” Emmy raced ahead. She had gone into the barn before either of the adults had taken a step.
Mary laughed at her daughter’s exuberance. “I wish I could bottle her energy.”
Rachel released a squirming Wes, who hurried after his sister. “You’d be rich in no time, that’s for sure.”
“From your mouth to God’s ears,” Mary said. “I think we’re going to have to sell the horses. Tom and I talked about it last night.”
“I’m sorry, Mary. Would you like us to keep them, until things get better? I’m sure we’ve got room for them.”
“No, Tom would throw a fit. You know how stubborn he is.” Mary grasped Rachel’s arm to stop her progress to the barn. “But thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
Rachel shrugged. “It’s all right. The offer is open, if you need it.” She looked at the hand that gripped her arm. “Rach, I—”
“Mrs. Beene! Emmy yelled from the open barn door, “Sharon has a kitten, and she can’t get it into the box.”
Rachel stepped away from Mary, breaking the connection. “I’ll be right there, Emmy. Thanks.”
Rachel had just returned from dropping her girls off at a birthday party, and had planned to enjoy an afternoon in her quiet house. George was away on a buying trip and wouldn’t return until tomorrow, and she reveled in the freedom of being alone.
She was all set to run a hot bath when the phone rang. “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” she playfully answered.
“Hi, Mary. What are you up to on this sweltering summer day?” Rachel sat on the foot of her bed and pulled off her boots. When her friend didn’t reply with a smart remark, she stopped. “Is everything all right?”
“Are you terribly busy? I don’t want to take you away from anything, but I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee brewing and some cookies right out of the oven.”
Rachel grinned and tugged her boots on. “Actually, I was just wandering around the place, looking for something to do. It’s too quiet, with George out of town and the girls at a friend’s house.”
“Well, why don’t you wander down here? I’m sure I can find something to keep you occupied.” Mary grew silent.
“Great! I’ll be there in a few.”
Mary met her friend at the kitchen door. “That was fast. Were you that bored?” She waited until Rachel sat at the table before bringing two mugs of coffee. “The cookies should be out in a few minutes,” she said, as she sat across from Rachel.
“Should be out? You mean you bribed me with cookies that aren’t ready, yet?”
“I didn’t expect you to race down here.” Mary smiled at her. “Not that I mind.” When she looked down at her cup, her smiled faded. “Tom got a promotion.”
Rachel’s coffee cup stopped mid-way to her mouth. “That’s great!” At Mary’s downcast expression, she asked, “Isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course.” Mary pasted a fake smile on her face. “Route supervisor. In Houston.” The oven timer went off, so she got up from the table. With a cloth mitt on her right hand, she opened to door and reached for the sheet of cookies but pulled back with a pained gasp. “Damn it!”
Rachel jumped up and hurried to her aid. She picked the mitt off the floor and removed the sheet, placing it on top of the oven, while Mary went to the sink and ran water over her hand. She joined her friend at the sink. “How bad is it?”
“Let me see.” Rachel moved Mary’s hand away from the cold water long enough to see blisters forming on her first two fingers. “That doesn’t look good. Do you have any burn cream?”
Mary turned to face Rachel. “No, I,” she realized that they were almost close enough to breathe each other’s air. “Rachel.”
Rachel stared into her eyes and lowered their joined hands. She leaned closer until she could smell the coffee on Mary’s breath. “Mare, I—”
“No,” Mary pleaded. She covered Rachel’s mouth with her hand. “Please, don’t.”
“But you can feel it too, can’t you?” Rachel whispered.
Unable to answer, Mary nodded.
Rachel took Mary’s hand from her mouth and held it. “We could leave. Together.”
Mary pulled her hand back and turned off the water. “And ruin everyone else’s lives? No. I have to go with Tom. Even if it’s the last thing I want to do.” She wet a dishtowel and wrapped it around her fingers. “You need to leave. Please, Rachel. Just go.”
“But, Mary. You’ve said yourself that Tom doesn’t seem to love you. Why would you put yourself through that?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” she murmured. “Please, lock the door behind you when you leave.” Mary fought to keep her tears from falling as she jogged down the hallway.
Rachel stood on the covered front porch of her farm house and watched the moving truck bounce along the dirt road half a mile away. She took her cap from her head and crushed it in one hand. It had been two months since that ill-fated conversation with Mary Allen, each day more painful than the last. She’d seen her friend when their children would get together, but the visits were strained with polite distance. She heard the slam of the screen door but didn’t turn around.
“Looks like they’re on their way, huh?” George stated in a gruff tone. “Tom will do better in the city, with that new job. Shame they have to move so far away though. He was a pretty good guy. I know you and the girls are gonna miss them.”
“Yeah.” Rachel turned her head so that she could wipe her eyes on the shoulder of her shirt. “Sharon’s been in her room all day, crying. I don’t know what to do about that.”
George, in an uncharacteristic show of affection, roughly patted Rachel’s back. “She’ll get over it. Kids do.” He went back into the house.
“Yeah. But I won’t,” Rachel whispered. “Never.”
“Mom, please. You need to do something. Anything,” the blonde woman pleaded, as she dropped dramatically onto the sofa. “It’s been seven months. You need to move on with your life.”
Her mother closed her eyes and heavily exhaled. “I think I’m too old to move on, hon. It’s been a shitter of a year.” She rested her head against the back of the sofa.
Hannah Beene-Norrell refused to take that for an answer. “You’re only sixty-nine, Mom. Didn’t you ever hear that seventy is the new fifty? You’ve got so much life ahead of you.”
“What idiot came up with that?” Rachel asked. She sat up and opened her eyes. “My partner of thirty years passed away less than a year ago. Aren’t I allowed my grief?” her voice rose until she was almost yelling. “I’m sorry, honey. I shouldn’t take it out on you.” She got up and walked across the room to the fireplace, where the mantel was covered with framed photographs.
“We all loved her, Mom. But just because she’s gone, doesn’t mean you have to give up on the rest of your life.” Hannah joined her mother by the fireplace. She picked up one of the pictures and laughed. “Oh, my god. Where did you find this?”
Rachel took the frame from her and studied the photo, which had been taken when Hannah was only seven. Nine year-old Sharon and Emmy, Hannah, and three year-old Wesley were all covered in hay, as was Mary Allen. They were laughing and waving hay toward the camera, as it threatening it. “Found it in an old book I was going to give away.” She traced the glass before placing it back on the mantel. “Reminded me of better times, so I put it up here.”
“We tackled you and buried hay under your clothes, right after that was taken,” Hannah added with a giggle. “You were so pissed.”
“I itched for a week,” Rachel muttered.
Hannah put her arm around her mother and gave her a squeeze. “Dad never did understand, did he?”
“It just wasn’t his way. And it sure wasn’t his fault that I figured out I was a lesbian soon after that, was it? Maybe if I had stuck it out—”
“No, Mom. You can’t blame yourself for how Sharon turned out. She did it to herself.”
When Rachel divorced George in nineteen eighty-two, Sharon stayed with her father, while Hannah lived with Rachel. After becoming increasingly wild, Sharon ran away from home when she was fourteen. She would sporadically contact her father for money, which she used for drugs. When she was twenty-four, she ended up married to one of the fathers of her four children, and settled down to an unhappy life in an Oklahoma City trailer park. She refused to speak to her mother or her sister, since she blamed them both for her miserable life. When George Beene died in nineteen ninety-six, she cut off all communication from her family.
Rachel rubbed her head, not disturbing her white, short hair in the least. “But if she’d had more of a mother, she might not have turned out so rotten.” She shook her head. “All right. Enough of that.” She put her arms around Hannah and hugged her. “Thanks, Hannah banana. Guess I needed a kick in the keister.”
Hannah pulled away and took her mother’s hand. “Let’s go to your office. I know just the thing to make you feel better.”
“Oh, yeah?” Rachel allowed herself to be led through the house to the spare bedroom, which held a futon and a desk. It was where she spent a lot of her time, while her partner was being cared for in the master suite. She had spent months in hospice, but came home for her final few weeks. The neurodegenerative disease that had attacked her wife’s body had made her dependent on machines to breathe, so the in-home nurse had suggested that Rachel stay in a separate room.
Hannah pushed her toward the desk. “Have a seat. I’ve already logged you on and set up an account for you.”
Rachel grabbed her computer glasses and put them on. She peered at the monitor in confusion. “An account for what?”
“Facebook. It’s where you can keep up with your friends and family.” Hannah leaned over her shoulder and pointed to the screen. “See? You’re already friends with me and Gary. Now you’ll get to see pictures without having to fuss for them.” Gary was Hannah’s husband, a financial advisor whom Rachel adored. He not only made her daughter happy, but have given her three beautiful grandchildren to spoil.
“Huh. Look at that.” Rachel scrolled down the screen. She was fairly computer literate, but had never heard of such a website. “That’s neat.”
Hannah sat in the chair to her mom’s right, where she could still see the screen. “You wouldn’t believe all the people I’ve found through the site, Mom. Old school mates I hadn’t seen or heard from in twenty years or more. It’s amazing. Oh, I put your log in information in your address book, so you could sign on without me.”
“Thanks, hon.” Rachel continued to scroll down the screen, clicking on a picture and going to Hannah’s page. “Oh, look at you! What made your put that old picture up there?”
“That’s a throwback Thursday photo. Click on the first person who commented.”
Rachel did, and was transported to another page. “She looks vaguely familiar.”
“She should,” Hannah teased. That’s Emmy.”
“Emmy? As in Amelia Allen?” Rachel turned to look at her daughter, who had a very proud look on her face. “What?”
Hannah flipped one end of her hair before she rested her elbow on the arm of the chair. She propped her chin on her hand, but couldn’t keep the grin off her face. “Yeah, that’s Emmy. She’s a children’s book writer, now. Did you know she went to high school with one of the women I work with at school? What are the odds? That’s how we connected.”
“A writer, huh?” Rachel turned back to the computer. “She sure looks a lot like her mom, well, except maybe for the buzz cut.”
“Yeah, that’s the funny part. She’s married,” Hannah shared. “To a woman,” she added gleefully.
Rachel turned around so quickly she almost fell out of her chair. “Little Emmy’s gay?”
“She’s not so little anymore,” Hannah reminded her. “She’s almost fifty years old, now.” She stood and put her hand on the mouse. “Check this out.” Two clicks later, another face was on the screen.
Rachel stopped breathing. The face of her dreams was on her screen, albeit older than she remembered. “Mare,” she whispered.
“Yeah, she lives in the same city as Emmy. As a matter of fact, Emmy moved her closer when her dad passed away.”
Hannah put her hand on Rachel’s shoulder. “Yeah, he died about ten years ago. Emmy was worried about her mom, so she moved her from San Antonio to Dallas.”
“They ended up in San Antonio? I had always wondered.” Rachel continued to stare at the picture. “She’s still beautiful.”
“She hasn’t changed that much. Although she looks really sad,” Hannah agreed. “I chat with Emmy from time to time. She said that her folks didn’t seem happy for a very long time. Kind of a shame. Mrs. Allen always had such a great laugh.”
Rachel fought the tears that threatened to fall from her eyes. “Yeah. I wish—”
“Scoot over,” Hannah ordered. She took over the mouse and made a few clicks. “There.”
“What did you do?”
“You’ve sent a friend request to Mrs. Allen. I’m sure she’d love to talk to you.”
Rachel rolled her chair away from the desk. “Oh, my god. You what?”
“Calm down, Mom. I just gave you a little push.” Hannah patted her on the head. “I’ve got to run. The kids will be home from school, soon.” She kissed Rachel’s cheek. “Let me know how it goes.”
“I don’t know whether to spank you or kiss you,” Rachel yelled. Her daughter’s laughter echoed through the house. “Brat.”
After pacing through the house for the remainder of the day, Rachel finally gave up and settled down to an early bedtime. She stretched out on the king-sized bed and turned on the television. The large master suite was almost bare, holding only the bed, nightstands and the television on the opposite wall. She had purged the worn, cheap furniture that her partner had insisted on having, and was slowly making the room her own. The fifty-inch flat screen was her newest acquisition, something that she often fell asleep watching.
The ringing of her cell phone on the night stand startled Rachel out of the dream she had enjoyed. She glanced at the alarm clock, surprised it was not even eight o’clock. “Hello?” She could hear soft breathing on the line, so she cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello?”
A soft, feminine voice asked, “Rach?”
Rachel sat up so fast that her head spun. She blinked a few times and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. “Mare? Oh, god. Is this really you?”
“It’s me.” Mary was silent for a long moment. “I’m so sorry about Carla. Emmy told me.”
“Thank you.” Rachel thought about her wife, and her last year of life. “She’s at peace.” How did she explain the misery she went through, not because of her partner’s struggle, but because of the relationship that should have ended years ago? How Carla, even before the disease struck, couldn’t stand to be touched anymore? It was information that she’d never share with Hannah, or the children, who loved Nana Carla. “How,” Rachel’s voice broke, “how did you get my number?”
Mary softly laughed. “It’s on your Facebook page.”
“It is? Well, damn.”
“You don’t mind that I called, do you?”
Rachel shook her head, then laughed at herself. “Of course not!” She scooted back until her head hit the headboard. “Ow.”
Mary took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You sound the same,” she softly said.
“So do you. Hannah told me about Tom. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. I really didn’t know how I was going to cope, after he,” she stopped. “died. But Emmy was a lifesaver.”
Rachel closed her eyes and rubbed the back of her head. She wanted to crawl through the phone and pull Mary into her arms. “So, um, yeah. Sounds like little Emmy turned out pretty well. Hannah told me she’s a children’s book author.”
“Yes. She tried teaching, but just couldn’t stand the parents. So she wrote for the kids, instead. Her wife, Kim, is a techno-something or other, so Emmy only works part-time, now. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of books out of her. Your Hannah is so sweet. She’s always writing and checking up on me.”
“Same, here. Although up until today, I thought she was just being a pest,” Rachel joked. She enjoyed the sound of Mary’s laughter, something she never thought she’d hear again.
Three weeks, dozens of phone calls and hours of just talking later, Rachel Whitaker stood trembling on the front porch of a nondescript duplex in Dallas. She raised her hand to knock then jerked it back. The single, red rose in her other hand shook, as her nerves got the best of her. Suddenly the door opened, and Rachel was face-to-face with her first love.
Mary had watched through the peephole while Rachel struggled. Now she had a good view, and spent a moment enjoying it.
Rachel was still tall, but the muscular frame had given way to gravity, as well as an extra thirty pounds. The blonde hair had given way to a shorter, solid white, although it still wisped around her face attractively. Her beautiful face was wrinkled, but those green eyes still sparkled, although it appeared she had stopped breathing. Mary smiled at her. “Breathe, honey.”
“Huh?” Rachel gasped, taking in several gulps of air. She nervously ran her hand through her hair. “I’m an idiot.”
Mary stepped closer and put her arms around Rachel’s neck. “I’ve been waiting thirty-six years for this,” she whispered, as she rose onto her tiptoes and placed her mouth on Rachel’s. The lips she had dreamed of were soft and yielding, and Mary moaned when Rachel’s hands settled on her hips.
When she had to decide whether to breathe or pass out, Mary pulled her face away and settled her cheek against Rachel’s heaving chest. She could hear Rachel’s heart pounding, and raised her head to look into her love’s eyes. “Are you okay?”
Rachel nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“Why don’t we go inside? I think we’ve got quite a few years of catching up to do.”
Rachel nodded again. “Yeah.” She blinked and held up the rose, which was bent almost in half. “Um, Happy Valentine’s Day?”
Mary took the poor rose from Rachel’s hand. She looked closely at it and began to laugh. “I do believe it’s the best Valentine’s Day, ever.” Mary clutched Rachel’s leather belt and tugged her forward. “Inside. Let’s see if we can hibernate until St. Patrick’s Day.”