The Day After
I just want
to use this final opportunity to thank the many readers who have taken the time
to write to me, many wondering if I was ever going to finish this story! (I promised I would and, at long last, I
have). Your feedback has been a
wonderful boon and I greatly appreciate your kind words. Thank you to everyone!
In hindsight, Resa was inordinately pleased with her decision to wear the black dress. It had been a spontaneous choice, one that she couldn’t possibly explain, even to herself, but if the looks she was receiving were any indication, it was the perfect selection.
“My wardrobe is flannel free,” she continued as she stepped further into the room. “And Birkenstocks cost far more than I’m willing to pay for shoes, no matter how comfortable they may be so I don’t have any of those, either. But I do love a good pair of Levis…” She smiled. “…and I’m a big fan of T-shirts.” And stopped a few feet away from the trio, cocking her head to one side in a simple, friendly gesture. “Hello. You must be Jennifer’s parents. I’m Resa. It’s nice to meet you.”
Silence greeted her, deep and heavy with an implication that she was far too astute to misinterpret. Inwardly she sighed.
Resa had had her fair share of hostile greetings, what with the life she’d led. And she had always succeeded in surviving each instance with admirable aplomb, as she knew she would this one as well. Yet of the many antagonistic encounters she had faced in her young and turbulent life none had made her feel quite as uniquely disappointed as did the one before her now.
On the drive over to Jennifer’s apartment she had managed (buoyed by an unusually strong sense of hope brought about in no small part by Tarquin’s letter) to consider the possibility (slight though it may be) that Jennifer’s parents would react to their daughter’s news not as she had envisioned, with negativity and umbrage, but rather with grace and dignity. With love and acceptance. Simply because she was their child, whom they loved. Simply because it was the right and just thing to do.
It was clear such hope had been nothing more than wishful thinking.
Her eyes swept over the Logans who watched her with a noticeable mixture of surprise and apprehension. Obviously things had gone poorly if the way Mrs. Logan’s eyes radiated hostility were any indication. Ironically, Resa could tell if the older woman were relaxed she would have been a reflection of what Jennifer would likely resemble in years to come. Beautiful and refined. Classic.
But not now.
In this unfolding moment, the older woman only succeeded in looking austere and cruel, two words that Resa instinctively knew, should she live to be a hundred, she would never use to describe Jennifer. How very disappointing.
Still, she was stubborn if nothing else and a perverted part of her delighted in poking the displeased couple…if only just a little.
“Jennifer’s told me a great deal about you both,” she said, at last provoking a response.
“Really?” Mrs. Logan said dryly. “We’re just learning about you.” Her disapproving eyes flicked over Resa.
“I told them,” Jennifer explained.
“I gathered,” she replied wryly.
“You must be very happy with what you’ve accomplished here.” Mrs. Logan said, her lip curled in contempt.
Resa came very
close to laughing but kept her voice decidedly neutral. “And what exactly have I accomplished?”
“Corrupting my daughter.”
Jennifer’s entire being tensed to the point of rigidity. “Mother. Don’t--”
Resa reached out to put a hand on Jennifer’s shoulder, effectively silencing the younger woman’s burgeoning tirade, something Resa instinctively knew she wanted to avoid, if possible. Green eyes met hers and a silent communication past between them before Resa turned her attention back to the watchful mother.
“To corrupt implies to deprave and dishonor,” Resa answered with smooth control. “And I would never describe our relationship in those terms.”
“What terms would you use then?” Mrs. Logan demanded. “What politically correct spin would you put on this whole mess?”
Unable to contain herself, Jennifer stepped forward before Resa could restrain her again, her jaw thrust to one side in furious resentment. “How about two people who met and fell in love.”
“Two women,” Mrs. Logan shot back.
“Well, last I checked women were people, though the way your acting right now, I think that might be debatable.”
The older woman was aghast. “How dare you talk to me like that?”
“And how dare you talk to me like that? Or to Resa? In my own house, I might add.”
“Well,” Mrs. Logan countered, her voice lowered an octave to martyr timber. “We can leave, if that’s what you’d like.”
For a long moment no one spoke as the threat hung over everyone’s heads like a guillotine, a threat Resa had frankly been expecting since the conversation began. It was the perfect passive-aggressive tactic and she’d already seen enough of Jennifer’s mother to recognize that as a likely fallback defense.
“Is that what you want?” Jennifer asked at last, unable to keep the raw pain out of her voice and Resa found herself fighting the urge to comfort her partner. Much as it was her instinct to protect Jennifer and much as she felt it her right to be able to physically express her affection, now was unquestionably not the time. That was, if this situation was ever going to end without an all-out Logan Family Excommunication.
“I want my daughter back, that’s what I want,” Mrs. Logan said and for the first time Resa detected a note of something other than bitterness coming from the older woman, something approaching humanity.
Jennifer raised her arms slightly out from her side. “I’m right here,” she said. “I’m the same person I was a half hour ago. I’m the same person I have always been.” She frowned, the barest trace of tears glistening in her eyes. “Can’t you see that?”
Mrs. Logan was clearly doubtful and it annoyed Resa. It took every ounce of self-control not to unleash herself on the older woman as she so wanted to do. But it wouldn’t have been the right course of action, no matter how poorly Mrs. Logan was behaving.
“It’s a sin,” the older woman whispered.
“In whose eyes?” Her daughter sounded exasperated.
“And did he tell you this personally?”
“—in the Bible, yes, I know. Of course, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we’d also admit the bible was written by men, not by God.”
“It has His divine hand guiding it.”
“So sayeth the same men who wrote it. Which is always convenient.” Blonde brows furrowed in irritation. “And, while we’re at it, when have you ever been a big proponent of what is and isn’t in the Bible? You’re barely Episcopalian.”
“I go to church more than you know, young lady. Don’t presume to know about me.”
“Well, I won’t if you won’t,” Jennifer countered.
The two women squared off against each other in mutual antagonism as both Resa and the taciturn Mr. Logan watched on. Then, after several beats, the younger woman’s shoulders slumped slightly in a subtle forlornness that hit Resa like a stab deep in her chest.
“Mother,” Jennifer said with sadness. “I have fallen in love with a woman. That’s all. I don’t use drugs. I don’t drink and drive. I have yet to kill anyone. I don’t even cheat on my taxes. I work hard each and every day to be the best person I can be and you know what? I think I do a pretty good job, all things considered. But if you want to throw away our entire relationship because you can’t deal with the fact I’m not going to be the little princess you’ve always envisioned, the one who gets married to the doctor or lawyer or Indian Chief and has three perfect children, then, really, that’s your problem, not mine.” Resa felt her hand grabbed by her partner. “And you can either accept that this is the person I have chosen to be with…” Jennifer drew in a deep, steadying breath. “…or you can leave. The decision is yours.”
There was a beat of silence as her words sunk in for all present and Resa found herself unconsciously holding her own breath. She was entirely aware that the manner in which Mrs. Logan handled this moment would be key to the future of her relationship with her daughter. And a little part of Resa somehow managed to remain optimistic, hoping for Jennifer’s sake that the older woman would have the strength and maturity to pull this runaway situation back on track.
Alas, that was not to be.
Mrs. Logan swung the focus of her attention squarely onto Resa.
“I blame you for this,” Mrs. Logan seethed.
Big surprise, was what Resa longed to say, but wisely refrained.
“You have destroyed my family,” Mrs. Logan continued. “Are you happy? Is this what you wanted? Is it?” Tears slipped down the older woman’s face and Resa had enough compassion to feel the tiniest bit sorry for her, even though the foundation for her grief was her own bigotry.
Resa squared her shoulders. “Mrs. Logan, I’m only going to say this once because it really isn’t in my nature to talk more than I need to. But, if anything has been destroyed here, I know it’s not my fault. And it isn’t Jennifer’s either. I know she loves her family, loves you both very much and would do nothing to hurt any of you. That’s just not in her makeup. And it isn’t in mine, either. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to destroy anyone’s family, especially Jennifer’s. But I’m not about to walk away from her just because it might be easier. For everyone involved. Myself included. So if any damage has been caused, it comes from your side, not mine and certainly not Jennifer’s.”
If Mrs. Logan’s face had suddenly split open to reveal the frenzied, pulsating physiognomy of a basilisk, the former gang leader would not have been surprised. She was that angry. But, even still, the former gang leader was unprepared for the older woman’s succinct reply of,
Taken aback, Resa’s eyes widened, quite certain that was the very last thing she expected to come from Mrs. Logan’s mouth. And judging by the shock rippling across Jennifer’s face, it wasn’t what she was expecting, either.
“Barbara…” the quiet voice to her left interjected and Resa glanced over to where Mr. Logan stood gazing upon his wife with restrained disapproval.
She ignored him.
“Fuck. You!” she repeated, with even more venom than before as she took a step forward to challenge the far taller former gang leader with a fierce hatred she could not contain.
“Barbara, stop,” Mr. Logan insisted with greater force but she ignored him yet again.
“You have taken my-my daughter,” Mrs. Logan continued. “My precious, precious daughter and you--you have destroyed her!”
“Barbara!” He grabbed hold of her arm and spun her around until she was staring directly into his eyes. Her demeanor changed at once, almost as if she were a balloon deflating as she saw something in her husband that caught her up short.
In that moment they exchanged the long, meaningful look of which only two people who had known each other for decades were truly capable of sharing. Resa observed the fury dissipate from Mrs. Logan’s features and her breathing slowed markedly from the near panting rage she had been experiencing only seconds before. On some level, it was fascinating.
“Your purse is on the entry hall table,” he said in a far calmer tone. “Inside is your cell phone. Go there. Get it. Call for a Yellow Cab to pick us up right now and then wait for me outside on the front steps.”
“I’ll be along in a minute.”
She didn’t move.
“Go.” He left no room for argument.
And with that, the fury that was Barbara Logan abruptly turned away and swept out of the room, not bothering with a backward glance.
Even before the older woman was gone, Resa moved to pull Jennifer to her, holding the smaller woman against her body to soothe her pain. She clenched her jaw and rested her cheek against the top of her partner’s head, tightening their embrace.
Sensing herself being observed, Resa glanced up and encountered Mr. Logan’s watchful gaze. She met his eyes and used the moment to take a second look at the man whom she had initially dismissed.
He reminded her of a character actor out of some television program or movie, the one whose face was always recognizable but whose name never quite registered. In less trying times, she would go so far as to say he even looked kind. Definitely paternal. She could tell he was studying her. Sizing her up. And oddly enough, she received his blatant appraisal devoid of any resentment, knowing as she somehow did, that his scrutiny was born out of the need to protect his daughter. How could she ever resent that?
He shifted his attention to Jennifer, blue eyes focused and to the point. “You sure about this?” he asked.
Jennifer pulled slightly away from Resa’s embrace in order to better address her father.
“Yes. More sure than I’ve been about anything before in my life.”
He accepted this with a nod. “It’s not going to be an easy life,” he said. “You prepared for that?”
“Probably not,” she confessed, her voice warbling slightly from emotion. “But I love her and won’t give her up, so I don’t have a choice.”
He seemed to consider this then glanced back to Resa. “And you… Do you love her?” he asked directly, not bothering with preamble, which she found admirable.
She watched him with equal directness. “I would die for her,” she replied.
His eyes narrowed, then he caught his lower lip between his teeth, reminding Resa at once of the young woman she held in her arms. It was intriguing to see such a familiar gesture echoed in a man she had only just met.
He seemed to recognize her sincerity. “You still doin’ that gang stuff?” he asked next in the same forthright manner.
Jennifer pulled back a bit more, though Resa would not release her, and glanced at her father. “How—?” she began to ask.
Mr. Logan fixed his daughter with a slightly amused look. “I told you I’d read your book, Jenny Beth. Every word. And contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t born yesterday. Or even the day before that. All I needed to know was in there.”
He turned his attention back to Resa and she shook her head at his question. “No, sir,” she said. “I haven’t done that for a long time. And I never will again.”
He gave an abrupt nod as though he had already anticipated this answer but felt it his duty to ask the question nonetheless.
He regarded her a moment, then frowned in curiosity, another action that she recognized as one Jennifer had inherited.
“What exactly do you do now?” he asked.
Oh, boy… she thought in bemusement, feeling the tiny prickle of a blush begin to steal its way up her neck. It was a subject she had managed to avoid with Jennifer up until now, not because she was ashamed of her occupation -- it was an entirely honorable profession -- but because of the reply such a revelation was sure to receive.
But, what the hell, she thought.
“I work for the Downtown Library,” she informed them, then prayed that she somehow wouldn’t blush further. Which she didn’t…but just barely. Particularly when she felt Jennifer stiffen against her and saw Mr. Logan’s blue eyes widened in surprise, which was pretty much the reaction she had expected. She was, after all, fully aware of the incongruity of her job and her persona and had often marveled at it herself.
“You’re…” he began.
“…a librarian?” Jennifer finished in disbelief.
Resa gave a little shrug. “Technically” she answered with a wry pull to her mouth. “I work mainly in the stacks. Logging in older books and trying to update the computer files. It’s pretty tedious, but it pays.”
And keeps me out of the public eye, she finished to herself, knowing that had been the greatest draw for her. The anonymity. The seclusion that came from being buried deep in the bowels of such a mighty and imposing institution.
Her first thought upon entering the building itself had been, A person could get lost in here… And that was precisely what she needed at the time. To disappear. Plus, in a subconscious draw that she had failed to realize at first, but slowly came to recognize over the ensuing months, being in the library also meant she was surrounded by books, which in a strange way was like having a little connection to Jennifer. There was a part of her that used to wonder if she would ever see the young author in such a place even though she knew that to be unlikely. The Los Angeles Downtown Library was so vast and her position so obscure that she barely saw most of the other employees and volunteers, let alone many of the visitors. Still, she knew there was always that tiny, optimistic segment of herself that had hoped against all reasoning and personal resolution that she might one day run into Jennifer. Might turn a corner to find the familiar face staring back at her…
…and, in a way, she had. When Resa had found the flyer for the book discussion posted in the employee lounge and had been drawn to Jennifer’s book-jacket photo printed up alongside several similar ones of the other authors who were speaking at the same engagement. At the Borders Books and Music.
Mr. Logan rubbed the side of his jaw. “Huh,” he said, then gave a little shake of his graying head. “Well, they sure do things different here in L.A.”
“I’m also taking some classes,” Resa offered, suddenly and irrationally feeling like a potential suitor wanting to look their best in the eyes of the would-be father-in-law. “UCLA extension.”
“In astronomy?” Jennifer asked, smiling in wonder.
Resa smiled in return and nodded, her self-esteem tingling at the obvious pride that shone across her companion’s face. Jennifer hugged her tighter.
“Oh, baby…” the younger woman whispered, tears spilling out over her cheeks and it took all of Resa’s willpower not to kiss her companion right then and there, something she could tell Jennifer was struggling with as well.
“What about you, Jenny Beth…” Mr. Logan asked.
“What about me, Daddy?”
“Are you happy?” he asked.
Jennifer rubbed one wet cheek with the back of her hand and nodded. “Yes, Daddy,” she said. “I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.”
He nodded again, a gesture that Resa was quickly recognizing was common. “Well,” he said, with a bit of a sigh. “I suppose that’s all I can really ask for.”
Jennifer frowned and sniffed. “I don’t understand…”
He gave a tiny grin, the lines beside his eyes deepening. “Darlin’,” he drawled. “One of these days, God willing, you’re going to have kids of your own and when you do you’ll realize that all you really want is for them to grow up and look you in the eye and tell you that they’re happy. And when that day happens, then you know you’ve done your job as a parent. Lookin’ at you right now, underneath all that cryin’ and blotchy skin and snotty nose, well, I can see I’ve done my job about as good as any parent can hope to do.”
Fresh tears spilled over onto her face. “Oh, Dad…”
He turned his attention to Resa. “And you…just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass if you hurt her, you got that?”
“Yes, sir,” Resa acknowledged, doing her level best not to break out into a giddy smile.
“Good.” He turned back to Jennifer. “Now, if I know your Mom, and after livin’ with her for all these years I feel pretty safe sayin’ that I know her better than anyone, by the time we land in Sydney she’s gonna feel like a horse’s ass for how she’s behaved. And she’s gonna call you eventually, in a day or two, and she’s gonna hem and haw for as long as you’ll let her before she apologizes and ends up cryin’ like a baby.”
“Why do I doubt that.”
“You shouldn’t. Look, I know she was harsh on you. On both of you.” He nodded to Resa. “And what she said was hurtful.”
“And mean. But you got to understand that she doesn’t take to change real well. Never has. All I’m askin’, darlin’, is don’t be too hard on her. She’s stubborn just like you but she does have a good heart. Just like you. And as much as it may not seem like it right now, deep down she just wants you to be happy too.”
“I am,” she said lifting her chin with a trace of defiance.
“I know you are,” Mr. Logan said with an indulgent grin. “It’s just gonna take your Mom a little longer to accept that you two have different definitions of ‘happy’. But I love you, Jenny Beth and I’m awfully glad you’re happy.” He frowned at Jennifer’s stunned expression. “What?”
“You,” she said in hushed amazement.
“What about me?”
She shrugged adorably. “You surprise me.”
“Why? Just because I voted for Dole and don’t want my taxes raised to high heaven I gotta adhere to all the rules of the Republican Party? Now who’s bein’ prejudiced?”
Jennifer stepped into her father’s embrace and hugged him tightly around the neck. A part of Resa melted at the sight.
“I love you, Daddy.”
He closed his eyes as he held her close. “You fill my heart, Baby Girl.”
Resa stood back as father and daughter embraced for several more moments, feeling in her heart a deep sense of relief mixed with joy that Jennifer was not going to be put through the pain of total rejection by both of her parents. But she also experienced a pang of longing as well, a strange if fervent desire to know what it meant to have such paternal love. Something she had been denied the whole of her life. Ahh, what she wouldn’t have given…
Jennifer and her father drew apart and he reached out to wipe the tears off her cheeks as she did for him, both smiling at the action of the other.
“I’m gonna go see about your Mom,” he told her then.
“Okay,” she whispered, her voice hoarse from emotion.
He turned to meet Resa’s eyes, some of the warmth leaving his expression, but it was not completely extinguished, for which she was grateful.
“You remember what I said about taking care of her.”
He stared at her a beat or two longer, assessing her sincerity, then, seemingly satisfied, nodded and with one last touch upon his daughter’s shoulder, turned to walk out of the room. A few seconds later she heard the front door open and shut, then silence.
* * * *
Jennifer heard the click of the front door as it closed and felt herself nearly go faint with a combination of anxiety and relief. Resa came up behind her and two powerful arms closed around her waist, pulling Jennifer tight.
“Are you okay?” Resa whispered close to her ear, the warmth sending a tingle down her neck.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “At least, I will be soon enough.”
Resa tugged her in the direction of the closest couch. “Let’s sit down.”
The younger woman complied, following her companion to the sofa and waiting patiently as Resa crossed to the nearby stereo, put in Miles Davis Kind Of Blue CD, and adjusted the volume to a satisfactory level. Seconds later, the familiar jazz tune was gently filling the air, bringing with it a soothing quality for which Jennifer was entirely grateful.
Then Resa was beside her again and Jennifer curled herself up beside her friend’s much larger frame, enjoying the feel of strong arms around her shoulders. She rested her head in the crook of Resa’s neck and they listened to each other’s breathing mingle with the music as the minutes slipped away.
There was too much she needed to process and as a consequence her mind went blank. She closed her eyes and just allowed herself to feel, to experience the wonder of someone else taking care of her in her time of need. Someone who loved her. She had always considered herself so damnably independent that it surprised her to no small degree how grateful she was for the presence of another on whom she could lean with such completeness. She felt almost unworthy, as if she had been given a gift by mistake and was waiting for the real owner to come forward to claim their rightful possession. Not that she would ever give up what she had without a fight…
Resa’s fingers gently massaged the tension that gathered along Jennifer’s shoulders, and the younger woman felt herself slowly begin to relax. She found herself floating between sleep and consciousness, for how long she did not know, but her mind slowly allowed itself to wander and she soon found her attention directed towards the events that had just transpired.
Had she been given all the time in the world to envision how the revelation with her parents would have unfolded, she honestly wouldn’t have dreamed up what actually took place. Her mother’s actions shocked her. They were so extreme, so hateful that Jennifer was left in a state well beyond hurt. Yet her father’s reaction left her equally astonished. She had known him always to be a simple man with deeply conservative ideals. My God, when she’d told him that she voted for Bill Clinton in both presidential elections she thought the man was going to have a stroke. Her mother, however, had supported her right, if not her choice, and the two women had joined forces in a lengthy ideological debate one Thanksgiving that was still discussed to this day.
So, when had things flipped around? she wondered. When did Mom become so intolerant?
A sound outside reached them, the sound of a car approaching. Both women listened intently. A couple moments passed, a door closed and then the car drove away, the noise gradually lessening until only a type of hush remained.
They’re gone, she realized and a part of her wanted to cry anew. She was about to resist the impulse, already afraid she was being too weak, when Resa’s hand cupped the back of her head and held her closer. The renewed contact helped her to release her emotions and allowed her the freedom to let loose without any concern of how it might be perceived.
For several minutes she let the tears flow, though she did not in fact weep. That wasn’t what she needed, not at this moment. She was too angry, too irritated and offended by her mother’s behavior to blubber and sob. Besides, a part of her knew her father was right, that her mother would calm down in time and come to the inglorious conclusion that she’d made a horrible mess of things. It was a typical pattern of behavior, but that didn’t make it acceptable. No, this would not be a situation out of which Barbara Logan could extradite herself with anything less than full repentance.
Resa rubbed her chin against the side of Jennifer’s face and then placed a warm, comforting kiss upon her cheek.
Thank God she came back, echoed softly in the back of Jennifer’s mind and she remembered anew the trepidation she had experienced at thinking that such might not be the case…
She pulled away slightly and looked into her partner’s eyes.
“Hi,” she said simply and Resa smiled.
“You came back.”
“Yep.” Resa nodded her dark head decisively. “That I did.”
Jennifer smiled, her heart full. “I’m glad,” she replied, then tipped her head to one side, suddenly curious. “But, why did you? I mean, I thought you said you weren’t going to be here when I told them.”
Resa lowered her eyes a moment. “I know and I’m sorry about that. I got home and thought about it and…I realized I was wrong.” She brushed a stray tendril off Jennifer’s forehead, then left her hand against the side of her face. “You asked for me to be with you and that’s all that matters. Nothing else.”
“And you were.”
“Eventually. Sorry I wasn’t better about the timing.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jennifer said. “I think you had excellent timing.” She ran a hand over tired, swollen eyes, her energy spent from the ordeal. “How much did you hear?”
“Enough. The front windows were open and I could hear you two arguing when I approached. When I got close enough I heard the words Mexican and Cuban and my name and I knew then for certain that you’d already told them. So I came in.” She frowned a little. “You should make sure you lock your front door, you know.”
“Yes, ma’am. Continue”
“I wasn’t sure if I should just come in like that, so I hung back for a second, but then I heard things get increasingly…um, heated and the next thing I knew I was walking into the middle of everything. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh, no. No, not at all.” She let out a small, exhausted chuckle. “Actually, you couldn’t have planned it better.” She glanced briefly at her companion’s attire and grinned. “Particularly in that dress.”
“Do you like it?”
“Very much so.” She felt the stir of desire working its way past her earlier aggravation to break the surface and it surprised her a little, this despite the fact that she had spent the better part of the past day doing her best to satisfy her sexual appetite. Such an abiding hunger was new to her, so much so it felt surreal. Never before had she been like this, been so aware of her body and its needs. In a way it was like being an adolescent all over again, with the adolescent desires she had never truly explored.
“What?” Resa asked, blue eyes narrowed with suspicion.
Jennifer shrugged, an unexpected sense of giddiness sweeping over her, drawing her away from the resentment and anger that had dominated her thoughts only moments ago. Without stopping to think, she leaned forward to lay a kiss against Resa’s full lips, reveling in the way her partner responded without hesitation. Emotions gathered in the center of her chest, pushing against the inside of her ribs until she felt as if she might burst with the need of it all. Well over a minute passed as they indulged in one another, but both mindful that now was not the time to let passions go unchecked.
When they broke apart, Resa gazed down upon her with a wry smile. “Remind me to wear this more often,” she murmured in a throaty voice.
“Oh, yeah,” Jennifer responded with a giggle and kissed both of Resa’s flushed cheeks, then rubbed her forehead against her partner’s neck like a kitten. “Where’d you get it?”
“Left over from my darker days,” she said lightly. “I tossed out most of everything else, especially my wardrobe. But I liked this dress. So I kept it.”
“Birkinstocks and flannel…” Resa scoffed.
“Actually,” Jennifer grinned sheepishly. “I own a little of both. But don’t tell Mom.”
“Oh, I don’t imagine I’ll be talking with her anytime soon.”
“No,” she agreed, her voice newly flat. “I don’t suppose you will.” She leaned back against the sofa, staring up at the high ceiling.
“How do you feel?” Resa asked.
There was a good half-minute of silence before Jennifer answered, “Mostly relieved. Like this huge weight is off my shoulders and I can breathe again…” She frowned. “But, at the same time, I’m…a little sad, too.”
“Because I know I hurt them, and I don’t want to do that.” She placed her hands over Resa’s. “I love them. They have all sorts of idiosyncrasies and issues, like everybody else, and they can drive me absolutely crazy at any given moment. But I still love them.”
“I know…Are you glad you told them?”
“Yes. Without question.” She glanced at Resa and then down, feeling the suggestion of a blush drift up her neck. “I almost didn’t.” Resa remained silent, waiting for her to continue. “I came this close to chickening out…but then, I realized that the only thing holding me back was my own fear.”
“Fear of what?”
Jennifer paused, battling the embarrassment that beset her. “You,” she whispered. “That you weren’t coming back.” She peered up at her friend through half-lowered lids. “Lame, huh?”
“No.” Resa shook her head, her eyes softened with understanding. “Not at all.” She squeezed her partner’s hand. “What made you change your mind?”
“I realized that to not tell them would have meant I didn’t have faith in you. In us. And that would have been wrong. I guess part of having faith is the not knowing before doing but doing it anyhow.”
Without losing eye-contact, Resa raised Jennifer’s hand to her lips and kissed it gently. “It’s called courage,” she said.
Jennifer shrugged. “I didn’t feel courageous. Just mostly…” She scrunched up her face. “…nauseous.”
Resa chuckled. “Poor baby.”
“I’m better now.”
They sat for several moments as the music flitted around them, dispelling, at least for the moment, the lingering traces of hostility that coursed through Jennifer’s body.
“What do you want to do now?” Resa asked at long last.
“You know, I honestly don’t care but I’ll tell you one thing…” She turned to face Resa. “I have to get out of this house!”
Her companion laughed. “Feel trapped, do you?”
“Like a rat. In a cage. Not…” she added a shade mischievously. “…that it hasn’t been very fun at times.” She smiled in such a way so Resa knew exactly to what she was referring and Resa returned her grin
“Yes, but even the horny need to eat,” she replied and Jennifer laughed at that. “You hungry?”
Jennifer nodded emphatically. “Yes. Food is good. I’m a fan of food, and eating in general, but especially at this moment. There’s something so very depleting about having an all-out war with one’s family.”
“Yep. Any suggestions?”
“Ooo!” Jennifer’s face alighted. “Actually, I do…”
* * * *
The December sky was freshly darkened, having just passed from the last stage of deepest indigo to full-on blackness, and though it was still fairly early by the time they made it out of the house, the tranquil hush that accompanied nighttime had already taken hold.
It was one of those rare occasions when the wind blew enough to tidy up the city air, leaving a perfectly fresh composition upon which the stars could twinkle and the Man in the Moon could puff out his mighty chest so that whomever should chance to behold his honey-colored fullness was left duly impressed. Los Angeles, for all the disrespect it garnered, could be magical when the effort was made, when it had the sense to dust off the smog and grime and pollution, and allowed the sparkle, the genuine beauty, to make its way to the fore. Tonight was such an occasion and Resa hoped it boded well for the rest of the evening, that everything would remain as peaceful as the environment around them. But knowing their track record, she wasn’t about to place any bets.
She sat in the passenger seat of Jennifer’s new silver Lexus LS 430 (“Well,” the younger woman had reasoned when Resa had raised one very inquisitive eyebrow. “I did have to replace the Land Rover…”) and watched surreptitiously as her companion handled the car with convincing ease. Jennifer’s hands, though small, were strong, as she well knew, and commanded the control of the car with unconscious authority.
By tacit agreement, neither spoke as they made their way to the restaurant. Only the hum of the car filled the interior as it sang along the road, with neither passenger nor driver particularly wanting to disturb the peacefulness. It was a rare moment of quiet in what had thus far proven to be a very noisy day.
After several minutes (with Resa having paid attention to none of their passing), Jennifer pulled the Lexus off La Cienega west onto Santa Monica Boulevard, drove a couple blocks and, apparently having properly appeased the Parking Gods, found an empty meter across the street from their destination: a restaurant called Benvenuto.
A wry smile hovered at the corner of Resa’s mouth.
Despite having spent all of her life in Los Angeles and despite having explored the vast majority of the city during her various exploits with Alfons, Resa Gustavez could honestly say she had very little knowledge of the particulars of West Hollywood, which was, as she well knew, ground central for the gay and lesbian community.
It would appear that was about to change.
As Jennifer checked her lipstick and eye shadow in the visor’s mirror, Resa glanced out the passenger’s side window and found her attention focused on two gay men, obviously a couple, strolling down the street while displaying an open affection for each other. A pat here, a nudge there, the total absence of body space. They were young and handsome and seemingly carefree and she could not tear her eyes away, though she was unconscious just then of why. Perhaps sensing her gaze, both men looked at her and she automatically smiled. The smaller man grinned in return, then winked and grabbed his boyfriend’s hand before sauntering off down the boulevard to disappear into the night.
Resa watched them until they were out of sight, then dropped her attention to where her fingers played with the door handle and wondered a bit at the interaction. They seemed so at ease, entirely comfortable in their own skin. She liked that. Liked the confidence and the outward display of inner strength, for even though this part of town had been staked out by the gay and lesbian community as their own personal area, it wasn’t a guarantee of sovereignty, and it didn’t entirely eliminate the inherent complexity being ‘different.’
Resa frowned a bit to herself. After all, she had never before taken issue with being different. For any reason. Indeed, there were times when she rather enjoyed being the outcast, reveled in it. But this situation she now found herself in was unlike any other she had ever before faced. It was all new and newness was often by its very nature a bit daunting, even for one as bold and daring as she. And yet, upon closer examination, she felt a stirring within her belly, the unmistakable stirring of excitement at being given a challenge that she had never before faced. In the last year and a half, challenges were the one thing she had studiously worked to avoid, having resigned herself to the most boring – and therefore in her reckoning safe – lifestyle she could imagine. But now she found she faced one of the most grueling tests she could have ever conceived for herself – the test of her own identity – and she felt…
Jennifer turned to her and asked, “Ready?” in her best perky attitude.
“Sure.” Why not? she finished in her own mind and exited the car.
With the coming of the evening came a cooling of the nighttime air though it was still quite warm for the heart of winter. Resa’s long, dark coat fluttered against her bare legs and her high-heels tapped agreeably against the cement sidewalk. Jennifer moved beside her and slipped her arm through the crook of Resa’s, bringing their bodies close together in a way quite similar to the two men she had observed only moments earlier. She found it most pleasing.
“West Hollywood,” Resa murmured wryly as they crossed the street. “You wasted no time diving right in.”
Jennifer just smiled and put an extra zip into her hop up onto the curb. A few minutes later they entered the dimly lighted interior of the restaurant.
“Hold on a sec…” the younger woman said and broke away from her partner to commandeer the attention of the handsome African American maître d'.
Resa took the opportunity to absorb the ambiance. It was a fairly quaint eatery, which from the outside somewhat resembled a two story house. The interior of the bottom floor had a slightly more than casual atmosphere as attractive waiters and waitresses in white shirts and black slacks buzzed past the mostly two-person tables that were, she noted in passing, primarily occupied by an upscale gay and lesbian clientele. She found herself drawn to the restaurant’s simplicity and relaxing elegance…as well as the rich aroma of garlic that poured from the open kitchen to hang thick in the air. Her mouth began to water of its own accord. Oh, how she did love garlic…
“Come on,” Jennifer said as she returned. “They have a table for us in the corner over there.”
“Great,” Resa replied, hunger getting the best of her. She followed Jennifer and the maître d' to an intimate table in the corner close to the small bar area, and held out her companion’s chair before taking her own.
“Man, I’m starved,” Jennifer said as she perused the menu with voracious eyes.
“I’ll try to keep my fingers away from your mouth until you’ve eaten,” Resa murmured, her own eyes devouring the menu selection.
“Very funny…although probably a wise idea.” Less than fifteen seconds passed before Jennifer announced, “Okay, I’m getting lobster ravioli and starting with a salad.”
Resa peered over the top of the menu. “That was quick. I haven’t even finished reading the menu yet.”
“Oh, I’ve been here before.”
“A few weeks ago. Do you want some wine? Merlot or Cabernet?”
“You decide.” Resa’s eyes narrowed in curiosity. “How often have you come to West Hollywood?”
Jennifer shrugged. “I drive through all the time. It’s in the middle of everything.”
“No, I mean, how often do you come here?” She waved her hand around. “To the gay part of town.”
“I don’t know, a few times.” Jennifer frowned. “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve never been here before.”
“To West Hollywood?”
“Never even drove through?”
“No, I’ve driven through, of course. I’ve just never stopped, never done anything.”
“Were you avoiding it?”
“No. I’ve simply never had the reason to look around.” Resa tipped her head to one side. “Have you?”
“I’ve driven through before, a million times. But I haven’t really ‘done’ the scene if you know what I mean.” Resa noted that her friend’s cheeks grew a shade pinker.
“Then what made you decide to come here tonight?”
Jennifer chewed the side of her mouth a moment in an overt sign of contemplation. “Well, I suppose if I really thought about it, it could be a reaction to the fight with Mom. My wanting to assert myself in an act of defiance by coming someplace…” She hesitated and her blush deepened.
“Gay?” Resa finished for her.
“Yeah.” She nodded and Resa watched the embarrassed flush turn Jennifer red. “Gosh, you know, that’s still hard for me to say so casually.” Green eyes focused on the empty plate before her as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. “Weird huh? I just had a knock-down, drag-out with Mom on this very subject but when it comes to me saying it for myself…”
“Very.” She sighed deeply, looking almost ashamed. “Much more than I ever would have thought.” A humorless chuckle escaped her. “Not that I really gave it much thought. Well, I mean, before…”
“Yeah. I know it’s crazy, but I never really considered the possibility for myself before, never thought I might be…gay…until today.”
Resa’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Today?”
“Yeah. Even while we were apart, I just never gave the same-sex thing much consideration. You were just you and I loved you. Not your gender.” She gave a little shrug. “In retrospect, it’s embarrassingly unenlightened of me. I mean, it’s probably because we hadn’t actually had sex until last night, never actually crossed that line. But, since we have…well, let’s just say the questions have been coming fast and furious.”
“About your sexuality.”
“Pretty much. Other things, too.”
At that moment their waiter, a tall, strappingly handsome young man with enough flair for drama to safely conclude he was an out-of-work actor, made his appearance at their table, his hazel eyes properly contrite.
“So sorry for the delay, ladies,” he said breathlessly, hand to his chest in dismay. “This is the crazy hour when all the lovelies descend to devour. I’m Kip, your waiter, and I see you already have your waters. Is there anything else I can get you?”
“Yes.” Jennifer grabbed the wine menu, focusing on the selections, and, Resa suspected, somewhat relieved to have been given a brief reprieve from the subject at hand. “We’d like a bottle of the Treana, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997.” She looked to Resa. “Do you know what you want yet or do you need more time?”
“No. You go ahead, order.”
“Okay. I’m going to start with a dinner salad and then have the lobster ravioli.” She handed the menus to the waiter and turned her attention to Resa.
“And I’ll have two orders of crab cakes for appetizers, the swordfish with a baked potato and the vegetable risotto for entrées.”
Kip gave her a look. “And do you have a wooden leg that you can eat all that and look so fabulous?” he asked dryly.
“Yes I do,” Resa replied with equal deadpan.
“Then, my, my, all hail the progress they’ve made in prosthetics,” he quipped and they all three smiled. “All righty. I’ll just get these to the lovely boys in the kitchen and be back in a flash with your wine.”
With that Kip moved off and when the two women returned their attention to each other, Resa sensed her companion’s sudden discomfort.
“It’s funny,” Jennifer mused. “The first thing I thought when I saw him was, ‘Could he be more gay?’ And then I felt guilty for even thinking that, like I’m suddenly on his team and yet here I am thinking the same things that if they were thought about me, I’d be upset. It’s like I’d betrayed him and--and …does this make sense?”
“Absolutely. There are a lot of prejudice that exists out there. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, it doesn’t matter, you’re still gonna feel its effect. And you shouldn’t feel bad. This is all new for you, for both of us--”
“Really? For you, too?”
“Of course. I’ve never spent time in West Hollywood.”
“But you’ve been with other women. Right?”
Resa shifted her position in her chair. “Yes. But that was different.”
“Because that was just sex for sex’s sake. It didn’t mean anything. And, as a consequence, it had no impact on my life. It was like a nice dinner. I ate, I enjoyed, I moved on. It was nothing like what we have.”
“Oh, I know that.” She waved Resa off with an unconscious lack of bother that the older woman found deeply amusing. “But, I’m talking about the fact that you’ve at least entertained the notion of yourself being something other than flat out, down the line heterosexual.”
“And I haven’t. Ever. Until now.”
“But now that you have…”
“It scares me. I know it shouldn’t, and I know all the reasons why it shouldn’t. I’ve had arguments with friends and family members about gay and lesbian rights. I’ve been the so-called liberal black sheep of the family for a long time. But, now that it’s me…that it’s my life and not some hypothetical figure…well, it’s a lot harder than I could have ever imagined it would be. And I’m not even done with the first day.” Jennifer rubbed the crease between her brows as if trying to remove some unseen blemish from her forehead. “I am such a coward.”
“Don’t. You’re anything but.” Resa reached out to take hold of Jennifer’s wrist and draw her hand away from her face, bringing it to the table and into her own much larger palm. “It’s all right to be scared, honey. I am.”
Jennifer’s eyes widened in astonishment. “You are?”
“Why are you scared?”
“Because our being together is never going to be easy. I thought about that very fact earlier today, after I left you. And it wasn’t a fun reality to face, either. Frankly, it left me questioning my judgment, whether my being with you is just selfishness on my part, whether it would be better for us to—“
Resa smiled gently. “I know.” She gave Jennifer’s hand a light squeeze. “I know. But it’s still an issue in our relationship that most everyone else will never have to consider. And that right there pisses me off. Scares me, too. Just by the nature of the world around us means we aren’t going to have as easy a go of it, not as easy as other people and it makes me feel…uncomfortable when I think of all the bullshit you’re going to encounter. Me? I can handle it. I’ve been through much worse. But you... Oh, baby, you shouldn’t have to deal with any of that and I wish to God that I could protect you from it. But I can’t. And that’s what scares me.”
“The difference is, you’re scared for me…and so am I. Which, when you think about, is really shitty and selfish. I’m scared because I don’t want to have to deal with all the looks I’m going to have to get. Not necessarily from my family, although that’s going to end up being a consideration, but from total strangers, too, like when we hold hands as we walk down the street and people look at us and know instantly. And I’m scared about all sorts of other things that I can’t even imagine yet, all those ‘what-if’ factors that are out there, somewhere in my future, just waiting to take me by surprise.” She sighed dramatically. “I feel so utterly unprepared and, God, I’m whining like a three year old!”
“You’re being honest. It’s good.”
She peeked up at her. “Promise?”
“I promise. Few people can be as open with their own self-doubts as you are.”
“That’s because I have so many,” Jennifer said with a self-depreciating glint to her green eyes.
“No more than the rest of us.”
“So says the woman brimming with self-confidence.”
“Brimming, huh?” She smiled and looked up as Kip approached with their bottle of wine and two long-stemmed glasses in his hands.
“All right, ladies. Here we go. An excellent selection, I might add,” he said as he poured a dollop into Jennifer’s glass then waited for her to give her approval. She sniffed the bouquet and took a sip, her eyes closing slightly in appreciation, which Kip rightfully took as acceptance and poured both women’s glasses. “Be back in a bit with the appetizers. Two orders of crabcakes, yes?” he asked Resa.
“Oh, how I do envy you,” he said before departing.
Both women smiled then Jennifer cupped the bell of the wineglass and raised it. “Here’s to us,” she said.
“To us,” Resa repeated and their glasses clinked. “And to the future.”
Jennifer’s face softened. “If someone had told me yesterday that I’d be here with you now, I would have thought they were crazy.”
“It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around.”
“And to think I almost didn’t agree to go to Borders last night.”
“I’d just been to a whole ‘talk-to-the-author’ thing in San Francisco and I was tired. But my agent convinced me this one would be worth it. Boy, was he ever right.”
“What’s your agent’s name?”
Resa raised her wine glass. “To Sal Torber. God bless his powers of persuasion.”
They clinked their glasses once again and sipped the wine. Resa immediately responded to the rich taste. Alfons had made it a point to instill in her from the very beginning of their relationship together the finer elements in life, believing as he did that one had to be familiar with wealth and privilege and all that it entailed to be able to fully achieve it. Wine tasting was just one aspect of that (sometimes dubious) education.
“This is excellent,” Resa commented.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“Have you always been a wine connoisseur?” she asked, and was then struck by the realization of how much she still had yet to learn about her companion. It was a shade jarring when considered from an outside perspective. But theirs was by all accounts an unusual relationship and she had already come to accept that.
“No. In fact, I’m just learning. Ian is helping to teach me.”
Resa frowned. “Ian?” The name was unfamiliar to her.
“Ian Hendricks. My professor from St. Mary’s. Father Hector’s friend.”
“He introduce me to Calvin Dutton, a publisher friend of his, which is how I got my book published despite being a complete neophyte. So I’m totally in his debt. Plus, Ian’s been a good friend to me.”
From somewhere in the vicinity of Left Field came an utterly irrational wave of jealousy. Fortunately at that moment a second waiter delivered their order of dinner salad and crab cakes, leaving Jennifer completely ignorant of the emotion as she picked off the various unwanted garnishes, a small, red tomato and shredded purple cabbage, and then helped herself to a bite of Resa’s appetizer.
“Yep,” Jennifer continued. “Which is funny since he was my most difficult professor in school. He used to pick on me like nobody’s business but now he says it’s because he thought I had talent and he wanted to work out all my lazy habits. I wish he would have made that a little more evident at the time because, frankly, he was a pain in my ass. Still without him I never would have had to write that book in the first place so I won’t complain. Much.” She winked and swallowed a bite of salad, then waved her fork as preamble to her next comment. “You know, he’s the one who brought me here a couple weeks ago, to Benvenuto.” She frowned a bit in sudden realization. “Come to think of it now, I bet he was trying to introduce me to this area for a reason.”
“Because of what he read in our story. Honestly, the more I think about it the more it amazes me that anyone could read what I wrote and not know I was in love with you. It’s so blatant.” She let out a droll chuckle. “Heck, even my Dad got it.”
“He’s a smart man.” Resa said, then gave her a look. “You know, I envy you.”
Jennifer frowned. “Why?”
“Having a father like that. Hell, having a father at all.”
Resa took a long drink of her wine, her eyes drifting off without focusing on anything in particular.
“You know nothing about your father?” Jennifer asked.
“No. Nothing.” She clenched her jaw, working through the nebulous sense of dissatisfaction churning within her. “Mamma told me nothing. I’ve always had to guess.”
“So, you and your brothers all had different fathers.”
“Yeah. Three kids, three dads. Only Tarquin got to know any specifics about his Papa.”
“Why is that?”
“Mamma claimed his father was her one true love. But he got killed. Not in the usual way, no violence or dramatic gun battles or anything like that. His appendix ruptured and he had to go to three different hospitals before anyone would take him because he didn’t have insurance. The delay killed him. He was maybe twenty.”
Jennifer pressed her hand to her mouth. “Oh my God, that’s terrible.”
Resa shrugged. “That’s a part of life where I come from.”
“Your mother must have been devastated.”
Resa frowned, forced for the first time to consider the event from her mother’s perspective. “Yeah.” She stabbed at her crab-cake. “In more ways than one.” She swallowed a bite and set her fork back on the plate. “Mamma had just had a baby and didn’t have a way to support herself. His parents were dead and she had too much pride to go to her parents for help at that point. She went later, after she got pregnant with me and my Grand Ma, good Catholic woman that she was, convinced her to not have an abortion. Probably would have been better for her if she had.”
“I’m glad she didn’t.”
“Me, too,” she agreed with a crooked smile.
Jennifer took another sip of her wine, then set the glass back on the table. “Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s so interesting.”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged, the top of her nose scrunching up in contemplation. “I suppose it’s because you’ve said little about your mother. She seems so…mysterious I guess.”
“She lives in Culver City,” Resa murmured sardonically. “Not a lot of mystery about that.”
Honey blonde eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Culver City? How do you know that? I thought you weren’t in contact with her.”
“I’m not. I haven’t spoken to her since I was fifteen, when I came back to the apartment to pick up the last of my things before moving in with Alfons. She was drunk out of her mind, sitting in that pig-sty of a living room, eyes glazed over. And you know what her last words to me were? ‘Don’t let the cat out.’ Can you believe it? She was more worried about that fat cat than she was about her own daughter going to live with a murderous drug lord.” She rubbed a couple fingers over her eyebrows. “Jesus…what a mess she was. Hell, what a mess she still is.”
Jennifer leaned forward and put an elbow on the table. “How do you know she’s still a mess?”
Resa’s mouth puckered in consideration for a moment, then she said, “I got a letter from my brother Tarquin.”
“Today.” She reached into the deep pocket of her long overcoat to extract the note, folded tight as if to keep the words from escaping. She’d brought the correspondence along on impulse, uncertain whether she would show it to Jennifer but oddly compelled to do so, if the opportunity presented itself. “I found Tarquin’s address and wrote him about a month ago. I don’t know what I was expecting. Anyway, this was in the mail when I got home earlier.”
She handed it over to Jennifer’s outstretched hand then excused herself to make her way to the bathroom and give her friend time to read.
* * * *
By the time Resa returned several minutes later, their appetizers had been cleared away, their entrees served and Jennifer had finished with Tarquin’s letter. Before Resa’s return, however, the younger woman had a few minutes to herself, which she used to contemplate the full meaning and the potential impact of what she had just read.
Resa had made contact with her family. She had located her brother, found out she had a niece and a nephew, and had been given her mother’s present address. It was a twist Jennifer hadn’t foreseen, one that hadn’t even entered the sphere of consideration. When she would allow herself the rare occasion to picture what Resa might be up to in their time apart – if she even entertained the notion that the other woman might be alive at all – she had always envisioned the former gang leader embroiled in some highly dramatic turn of events, much like the ones that had ruled her life up to the fateful moment of their separation. But in all her suppositions, in her many wild and clever imaginings, she never had conceived that Resa would have been a librarian living in downtown Los Angeles who would take the time to go in search of a member of her family. It was strangely incongruous with the woman’s awesome, kinetic reputation…and yet, when viewed in retrospect, especially from one who knew her on such an intimate level, there was an appropriateness to her actions. It was as if the initiative had been born deep within her soul and had crawled slowly out from the darkness that had once surrounded her like a shroud, into the brighter realm of possibility.
And, for the first time Jennifer also reflected what it might be like to not know the whereabouts of her own family. Though there was a part of her (for reasons made abundantly clear by the earlier confrontation with her mother) that felt an unkind longing for just such a predicament, the greater part recognized at once how much emptier her life would have been without them. For all their vast and various imperfections, for their numerous points of view with which she vehemently disagreed, for all their laziness and self-righteousness, their intrusions and meddlings, her family was – all of them – the most influential group of people in her young life and she was a better person for knowing them. Even when they pissed her off, even when they drove her crazy. And she wished Resa could understand and experience such a feeling just once.
Jennifer took another sip of her wine and wondered what Resa’s mother might be like after all these years, wondered how she would react to seeing her daughter again. Would she be able to notice the change? See the incredible transformation in Resa? Would she even care?
Oh, she would have to, Jennifer thought at once. She’s a mother and mothers always care in some way…don’t they?
Well, in her world they did. But hers was, at this point in her still young and sheltered life, a world inherently limited by its scope of knowledge. It was shockingly different from Resa’s, as she well knew. And hadn’t Resa herself pointed out before, on several occasions, the contrasts in their upbringings? Why, the other woman hadn’t even known the simple tradition of a birthday celebration, had never been given a birthday cake. What did that say of the woman who had raised her? What sort of creature was she?
Sensing Resa’s approach, she glanced up to find her dining companion weaving her way through the tight arrangement of tables and accidentally brushing the back of one attractive woman with short, frosted blonde hair. Resa gave her a brisk apology for the bump before moving on, unaware how the female diner’s eyes followed her retreating form all the way. Strangely, Jennifer experienced no wave of jealousy at the obvious display of interest but rather a surge of pride. That’s my girlfriend, she thought blissfully. Feel free to look all you want…I know how lucky I am.
Resa took her seat. Jennifer read the anxiousness in her companion’s expression at once, despite Resa’s attempts to pretend otherwise, and resolved to placate her.
“So, you’re an aunt?” she said with a smile.
Resa nodded. “Looks like it.”
“They’re beautiful.” She looked down at the computerized photograph once more, her eyes captured by the dark-haired girl with the delirious smile. “And Pearl looks like you must have looked at her age.”
Resa muttered, “Except happier,” under her breath.
Ouch. Those two words revealed a great deal.
Jennifer’s immediate instinct was to press the issue, but she forced herself to remain silent and for a few moments both women were lost in their respective ruminations. In the end, however, Jennifer was simply too curious not to ask the question that had sprung to mind the moment after she put down the letter:
“Are you going to see her?”
She didn’t need to elaborate on the ‘her’; Resa knew. But the dark-haired woman took her time to respond, her eyes cast downward, her brows pulled forward into a scowl. Finally she said, “I suppose,” with a half-hearted shrug and shoveled a bite of swordfish into her mouth.
Jennifer nodded, not surprised by the lack of enthusiasm. “Do you want to?” she persisted gently, not wanting to ruin the mood of their first dinner out together but unwilling to brush off an issue that was clearly this important.
“I shouldn’t…” Resa lifted her head to meet Jennifer’s watchful gaze. “…but I do.”
Resa sighed harshly. “I don’t,” she said, perturbed with her own emotional response to the prospect. “I don’t know what I expect I’ll find. Hell, I’m probably the last person she wants to see, just a reminder of all the bad things that went on in her life.”
“Hardly,” Jennifer countered. “You’re beautiful and smart and strong. She’d be crazy not to be proud.”
“It’s possible she is. Crazy, I mean.”
“Because of the stroke?”
“No. Because she never acted especially sane. I can’t imagine that’s changed much.”
“I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself.”
Her eyes grew hooded. “I guess I will,” was all she said before she took another bite.
They were almost done with their meal, in all its deliciousness, when the notion first came to Jennifer. She glanced up at Resa, then back down again. Then, unable to contain herself, she looked back up right into Resa’s expectant eyes.
“What?” the former gang leader challenged.
Jennifer chewed her lower lip. “You know,” she began. “Culver City isn’t that far away. Especially at this time.”
Blue eyes narrowed. “I see those wheels turning in your mind.”
“Well, I’m curious. Aren’t you?”
Resa’s left brow arched slightly. “Uh-huh.”
“And, it’s only a fifteen minute drive from here. Twenty tops.”
The timber of her voice deepened. “Uh-huh.”
“Soooo, I was thinking we could, you know, drive by where she’s living, maybe, just to take a look.” She put forth her best hopeful look. “What do you think?”
“Because it’s too soon.”
“It’s been fourteen years,” Jennifer reasoned.
“I’m not ready.”
“What are you waiting for?”
Resa set down her fork and fixed Jennifer with a hard stare.
“Look. I only just got the letter today. I just now found out where she lives. I can’t meet her now, after all this time.”
“We wouldn’t go in,” Jennifer said despite knowing it was probably a hopeless cause. “We’d just drive by, see what the place looks like. Form a mental picture so it won’t seem as foreign when you think about it later. That’s all.”
“No,” Resa said abruptly, shaking her head at the same time. “No.”
Jennifer could feel her friend shut down from across the table, practically saw the walls go storming up in defense, and she knew at once the reason; Resa was scared. Plain and simple. The woman warrior whose very name once instilled fear into the hearts of the ruthless and the cruel was, when it came right down to it, afraid to see her own mother. Which didn’t surprise Jennifer in the slightest. Resa was a woman of great courage and fortitude but even the brave had their vulnerabilities and Resa’s mother struck right at the heart of hers.
In college Jennifer had read about abused children, raised in homes far more inhuman than Resa’s, who would still express a longing for their parent’s love, this in spite of the atrocities they may have faced, the brutality and subjugation. It was a concept that Jennifer had found very difficult to grasp at the time, being as far removed from such an environment as she was. But she had learned a lot since college. And there was no denying that Resa had been reared in a horrible atmosphere that no child should ever have to endure. There was no romanticizing what Resa had been through, no skimming over the finer points of emotional abandonment and bone-crushing poverty. These were elements that shaped her partner into her present being and had to be acknowledged in their entirety or else the picture was skewed, lost. It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for Resa, on some level, perhaps too deep for her own recognition, to be reliving the same sense of defenselessness and anger that had once dominated her childhood…
“Do you disagree?” Resa asked, interrupting the trail of her thoughts.
Jennifer looked over her companion, her lover and friend and found herself melting inside. “Oh, no, baby.” She reached out to take Resa’s hand between her own. “Not at all. It’s your decision. You’ll know when you’re ready.”
Resa drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, the tension dissipating somewhat from her broad shoulders and easing around the corners of her mouth. She was quiet for several moments, her eyes fixed to her plate as if drawn and held there by a magnet. Jennifer felt her reluctance to speak warring with the desire to explain the vehemence of her resistance.
“I know I must sound like a coward,” she mumbled grimly.
“No. I absolutely don’t think that.” She gave Resa’s fingers a warm squeeze and was pleased when long fingers curled around her palm to return the pressure. She could see a slight tremor in the soft tissue beneath her blue eyes as Resa wrestled with her own emotions, clearly more powerful than she could have imagined. Jennifer gave a small, apologetic smile. “I didn’t mean to make you feel that way. I only wanted to present the option. I’m sorry.” She raised Resa’s hand to her lips and gave it a soft kiss by way of reassurance.
“It’s okay,” she said meeting Jennifer’s eyes briefly. “It’s not you. It’s…” Her scowl deepened as she struggled to articulate her emotions, which was never her strong suit. “Seeing Tarquin is one thing,” Resa said in a low voice, her gaze shifting off to the side as if she were trying to capture some long-lost memory. “I never despised him, never blamed him for what happened. It wasn’t his fault, what happened to Luis…or me. He was as much of a—“ She stopped short and a conscious recognition spread across her face. For a moment her mouth hung slightly agape as if some she were a marionette whose puppeteer had suddenly let go of the strings. “—a victim…” she continued at last in a voice quiet with what sounded close to awe. “…as I was.”
Jennifer noted the odd expression that crossed her face and tipped her head to one side. “Are you—“
“What time is it?” Resa interrupted abruptly, her manner suddenly hurried, as if she were being swept up by a powerful idea that was compelling her along in its wake.
Jennifer checked her watch. “Seven thirty.”
“How late do you think they allow people to visit?”
“At the retirement home.”
Jennifer shrugged. “I don’t know. Nine?”
Resa nodded her dark head, her eyes vacant as she lost herself in thought. “I was thinking either eight or nine. We could just make it…”
“Wait…” Jennifer said, holding up her hand as if to slow down Resa just long enough to allow herself to catch up. “Are you talking about tonight?”
“Yes.” Resa nodded again. “I do want to see her.” She shifted her jaw to one side in fixed determination that alighted in her eyes like a blue fire. “Tonight.”
Now, a thoroughly surprised Jennifer Logan didn’t quite know what to say to such an obvious and abrupt turn of events so rather than respond at all, she sat back in her chair and thought, Well, this could get interesting…
* * * *
When it came right down to it, there was a sameness to all assisted living facilities that transcended culture and the breadth of the economic spectrum -- blending the poor, the rich, the Jew, the Gentile, those who had lived full lives with those who knew only deprivation -- to create across the country, and even, to some extent, the world, a sort of homogeneous housing system where the only prerequisite for joining was to be old or enfeeble, or, more often than not, both.
But, if one was being honest, one would have to admit that the true unifying factor for all of these homes, the principal ingredient in the human amalgamation, was sadness. Sadness of the residents forced to live away from their immediate families and few remaining friends; sadness of the staff who were grossly underpaid and struggled daily to find a reason to watch those around them march forward to their inevitable destinations, a destination they were all-too-aware was soon to be their own; and sadness on the part of those who were forced to do the leaving. It didn’t matter the purity of the intent, the magnitude of how bad the children or the grandchildren or whichever unlucky family member drew the short end of the stick, may have felt about depositing their elderly relation into such a home or how often they endeavored to visit or the amount of gifts they managed to bring. There was always the same prevailing sense of sadness that floated almost tangible in the air, filling the vapor with an unspoken miasma of doom until many who visited were afraid to breathe lest they take such dissolution into their own relatively young, healthy bodies and find themselves unwitting residents before their time. There was no such thing as a happy nursing home, no matter what the pamphlets might try to say to the contrary, and the Royal Arms of Culver City, despite the majesty of its moniker, was no different from any other in this regard.
As Resa Gustavez found out.
It was almost eight thirty by the time Jennifer’s Lexus pulled up into the almost deserted and distinctly under-lighted parking lot of the care facility. By this point, Resa was seriously considering for the tenth time in five minutes whether she should tell her companion that this was a remarkably foolish idea after all. And she was drawing in a breath to do just that when Jennifer unexpectedly reached out across the expanse of the front seat to grip her hand, finding it with unfailing accuracy in the dark, and instantly suffusing Resa with the warmth of comfort, so much so that she forgot what it was she had intended to say.
“Do you want me to come with you?” her friend asked.
Resa nodded, then, unsure whether Jennifer could see her in the inky blackness of the car’s interior, murmured, “I would like that.”
They exited the car and headed toward the main building. Though darkness surrounded them, Resa could still distinguish enough from the outlines and silhouettes to recognize that this place was hardly unkempt. In fact, from what little she could glean – by the trimmed shape of the bushes, the tinkling sound of water as it spilled over from a nearby fountain, and the clean, white squares linked together to form a pathway to the front of the main building – it was quite lovely. So why, then, did she feel such a relentless sense of dread tugging at her chest?
She glanced up at a series of windows that lined the first and second floors, most of which were covered by curtains. A few, however, were not and Resa could not shake the impression of being somehow watched from at least one. She glanced again, straining to get a better look but failed to do so before she and Jennifer crossed through the automatic front doors that led into the building.
The nebulous sense of apprehension she felt upon entering was very quickly replaced by an almost primal urge to immediately turn and walk right back out again and one glance at Jennifer’s expression told her the younger woman was feeling something quite similar. But the green eyes that turned up to smile at her were filled with support and encouragement.
The lobby itself was thoroughly unexceptional, dominated by a front desk made of faux cherry wood with crisp, brass lettering that bore the name of the facility with dubious pride. Off to the right was a seating area consisting of two overly floral loveseats facing each other and a low coffee table covered by a couple National Geographic magazines that looked suspiciously as if they hadn’t been touched since they were first placed there.
A moment after their entered the reception area their attention was captured by a woman who hastened through the door behind the front desk. She had a long, dramatic nose that dominated her otherwise unremarkable face and wore a flowery smock of turquoise and mauve. Her manner projected one of perpetual bother, convincing Resa at once that she worked there. When the woman whose nametag read ‘Miss Carter’ caught her first glimpse of the two visitors, she frowned mightily, her two, thick brows pulling forward until they appeared as a ‘v.’
“Can I help you?” she asked, though her demeanor held enough annoyance that Resa recognized she would really rather not have to do any such thing. This only served to bolster Resa’s resolve.
“I believe my mother’s here,” Resa informed her in unusually measured tones. A beat passed as the woman just continued to stare at her, forcing Resa to add, “I’d like to see her.”
The woman’s mouth pursed, bringing forth dozens of little wrinkles to gather around her already thin lips and giving her a uniquely, and thoroughly unattractive visage.
“Visiting hours’ are over at 8:00,” she said curtly. “You can come back tomorrow.”
With that she turned away from them and began to search for some missing object in the hidden recesses of the front desk, confident, it would appear, that the unwanted guests would follow her instructions posthaste.
But Resa, who at the news felt a curious sense of relief mingle with her disappointment, was not one to give up when her objective was so close at hand. She glanced at a clearly annoyed Jennifer, then turned back to the dour and decidedly unhelpful Miss Carter.
“I haven’t seen her in a very long time,” she persisted, doing her level best to remain polite. “My brother said she was here and…and…” She stopped, frustrated at not being able to elucidate her feelings, even to herself, let alone to anyone else. Finally she said, “It’s important.” And that was enough.
The tense woman, however, did not appear to be moved. If anything the ‘v’ that hung like an arrow above her too-prominent nose seemed to deepen with her resolve. But as Miss Carter opened her mouth to most assuredly reject the heartfelt entreaty, an African American woman entered the lobby through the same doorway behind the desk.
Although the two resident ladies were similarly dressed, it was there that the resemblance between them ended for this second woman, with her round body and cheerful spirit, was the sort who drew people to her side rather than repelled them.
She smiled brightly at Resa and Jennifer. “Hello there,” she said, her voice warm. “How are you two ladies doing today?” Resa noticed her nametag read ‘Mrs. Hood.’
“Very well, thanks,” Jennifer responded, returning her smile in kind, as pleased as Resa to find someone nice with whom to speak.
“Good to hear it,” said the woman with a nod. She turned to focus her sparkle on the rigid Miss Carter by her side. “Evelyn, I’ll help these women out. You just get done what you need to. Don’t worry ‘bout a thing.”
The woman who only seconds earlier exuded all the charm of Miss Almira Gulch from The Wizard of Oz practically melted with relief. She didn’t bother to cast a spare glance in the newcomer’s direction before dashing off on her unknown mission, leaving Resa and Jennifer at Mrs. Hood’s disposal.
“Now, what can I help you with today?” Mrs. Hood asked.
Resa cleared her throat, experiencing anew the same apprehension that had plagued her moments earlier. But though a part of her wanted to write this whole experience off as an error in judgment and head back to Jennifer’s house, her resolve would not allow her to back down now. Not when she was this close.
“My name’s Resa Gustavez,” she said. “And I just found out today that my mother lives here.” Feeling Jennifer’s eyes on her, she squared her shoulders. “I know your visiting hours stopped at eight, but I’d like to see her. Tonight.” A beat. “Please.”
There, she thought after the words passed her lips. That wasn’t so hard.
Mrs. Hood moved around the front desk to stand before the two women. “You just found out today that your mamma was here?” she noted with interest.
Resa nodded. “Yes.” Then added, “We’ve been sort of…estranged.”
Resa fought the urge to shuffle her feet, chiding herself that the specifics of her separation from her mother were of no one’s concern but her own. And yet the feeling of discomfort persisted.
Reading her friend’s awkwardness, Jennifer took charge of the matter.
“Her name is Sophia Gustavez,” she said. “Do you know her?”
Mrs. Hood’s nodded. “Why, yes, I know her. Real well.”
Resa’s heartbeat accelerated with a lurch and her stomach plunged. Trepidation and uncertainty swarmed about her like bees and in that instant it all became crashingly real. Her mother. Her being there. The chance to see again, after years of being apart, the woman who had been a source of such great confusion in her turbulent life…
“Mrs. Gustavez has been with us for a couple years now,” Mrs. Hood continued, with Resa not bothering to correct her about her mother’s marital status. “A lovely lady.”
It took all of Resa’s restraint not to scoff at that last remark. Her mother had been many things in her hard and storied life but ‘lady’ had never been one of them.
Perhaps sensing Resa’s skepticism, Mrs. Hood asked, “When was the last time you saw your mother?”
“Thirteen or fourteen years ago.”
“I see.” She nodded her head thoughtfully, then fixed Resa with a piercing look that seemed as if she were reaching into her deeply buried, innermost thoughts. “Your brother is Tarquin?” Resa nodded. “And did your brother tell you much about your mother’s condition?”
“I know she had a stroke.”
“Yes, that’s true. But that’s saying a lot. You see, every person reacts differently to having a stroke. Some folks come out of it with almost no difference, others have a little limp or their speech is slurred or they can’t write their name quite like they used to. And then there are others who…well, they don’t come out of it at all.” Her eyes showed she was trying to be as kind as possible. “You’re mother is like that.”
Though she knew of her mother’s condition, a wave of pain washed over Resa. She clenched her jaw and wished she could deny the sorrow that flowered within the pit of her stomach at the information. But she couldn’t. Despite the misery she caused Resa, despite the hatred her daughter had harbored in her heart for more years than could be recalled, the verification of her mother’s condition was ultimately distressing to a profound degree. God, how Resa wished she didn’t care…
…yet, she did.
Resa drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “Is she coherent?”
Mrs. Hood considered the question a moment, mulling the best way to explain. “It’s not that she’s incoherent. She’s just not…present. That may be the best word.”
A cloud of dejection passed over her, darkening her spirit and leaving her to second-guess her decision to come to such a place on so improbable an undertaking. But then she felt a touch against her fingers and glanced down as Jennifer slipped her hand into her grasp. Resa raised her eyes to meet those of her companion and felt the weight of the other woman’s compassion pour into her, bringing her solace though no words passed between them. Just innate awareness. And, truly, that was enough.
Resa squeezed her fingers in return as raw emotion swelled in her chest.
“Would you still like to see her?” Mrs. Hood asked unexpectedly.
Resa glanced up in surprise. “Tonight?”
“Yes. She’s not yet retired to her room.” A kind smile hovered around Mrs. Hood’s dark brown eyes. “Mrs. Gustavez is usually the first one up and the last one to bed.”
Resa frowned. That didn’t sound at all like her mother. The Sophia Gustavez she knew had barely been awake during the daylight hours and when she was it was often passed in a drunken and/or otherwise stoned haze, leaving her children to care for her rather than the other way around. The notion of her being an early riser was almost laughable.
“I thought…” she started but caught herself. If this woman was kind enough to offer, then far be if from her to refuse. “Yes. I would like that.” Then she added, “Thank you.”
Mrs. Hood’s smile deepened, spreading the creases around the corners of her eyes outward like a Chinese fan.
“All right then. Sign in here at the register…” She indicated the sheets of paper attached to a clipboard that lay atop the front desk. “…and then follow me.”
Resa started forward, but stopped when Jennifer disengaged her hand from their clasp. Resa glanced back with a frown of confusion.
“You go,” the younger woman said softly. “I’ll wait for you here.”
Resa started to argue with her, but then realized the decision was likely for the best. Lord only knew what awaited her in next several minutes and though a great part of her desperately wanted the comfort of Jennifer’s presence, she recognized that this moment was one she had to face on her own.
She nodded, more for herself, then turned back to where Mrs. Hood waited for her in the doorway and together they proceeded forward.
The hallway beyond the lobby was slightly brighter, with the lights coming from florescent fixtures set into the white ceiling and the passageway wide enough to accommodate two wheelchairs side-by-side. A couple yards past the door, the hall split into two directions and Mrs. Hood led her to the left.
“Your mother likes to spend her time in the Front Gathering Room,” the older woman explained as they went, her manner one of friendly conversation. “That’s where many of our residents like to congregate when they don’t want to be in their rooms or in the entertainment hall. That’s where we keep the televisions and computers and such,” she clarified.
“Oh, yes. A great many of the folks love to spend their time on the computers, usually skimming the internet or writing e-mails to their loved ones. It’s been an amazing tool for them. Really keeps them in touch with what’s going on. I’ve noticed a tremendous change in folks who use them. Quite remarkable. One day, I might even figure out how to work one of those things, but I usually just leave that to my daughter. That girl is a wiz.”
A couple moments later they reached an wide entrance off Resa’s left with both doors still left open and it was here that Mrs. Hood stopped.
“Here we are,” she said. “This is what we like to call the Front Gathering Room. Folks come here to play games or to socialize or to read if they’d like.” She extended her arm toward the room that awaited beyond. “Your mother is inside.”
Those four words sent a chill up Resa’s spine that left her briefly paralyzed and in that moment she became, if only for an instant, the child she had once been so long ago. Small, helpless, hopeless. A little girl afraid of her own mother. But then Resa shook her head once and straightened her shoulders as she seized her courage and pulled it around her like a coat of armor. Then, without a glance back, she stepped within.
The room was institutional size. The ceiling hung too low and the three sofas, each of a different and wildly discordant pattern, were all but worn down to tatters. As she entered, she noticed someone has set up a Christmas tree off to her right, a small though stout evergreen, with branches weighed down by decorations, the majority of which were hand-made. Resa could imagine they were the result of some sort of arts and crafts class in which the residents participated, searching, always, for a way to pass the time. And right beside the tree, as if to stake its equal claim on this holiday season, was a Jewish menorah, candles waiting patiently to be burned over the next eight successive days.
At first glance, Resa was confused. There seemed to be no one present and she thought a mistake had been made…until she noted a shape across the room and grew still.
The figure was the only other occupant but she was still difficult to see. She sat off in the far, darkened corner, a silhouette of a woman lingering among the shadows, existing as if she had learned over the years to become one with them. She did not move. There, in the corner, seated by an unadorned window in such a way Resa instinctively knew was how she spent all her time, gazing at everything and nothing as the minutes of her day, her life, slipped past unnoticed and unmissed.
She had a sparrow’s way about her, small and brown and easily overlooked. She was the sort of person who, if the place had caught fire, no one would remember to come find her, not out of dislike but rather out of disregard. Resa could picture the personnel of the Royal Court, even the kindly Mrs. Hood, standing around after the flames of their building had been doused and asking each other who they were missing, who was the one that was absent from the count. Oh, that’s right, they would say. The Sparrow. Do you think she’s still there, by the window?
And yet this woman was supposed to be her mother, the demon from her youth. It seemed impossible; such a creature was too insignificant to have caused so much heartache to so many, to her. Resa was tempted to go back to Mrs. Hood to tell her there had been a mistake. This was not her mother. She couldn’t be. But then she caught something familiar in the tilt of the other woman’s head, the way her chin angled slightly down and away, and she paused, straining to look closer…until she knew, on a deep, primitive level that both compelled and repulsed her, that there had been no error; this was indeed her Mamma.
Resa covered her mouth for a moment, lest she made a noise, but even then she realized that the woman would not move even if she shouted from the top of her lungs. She was utterly still, like a statue, waiting only for the pigeons to come perch on her shoulders.
Resa crossed the distance that separated them, her pace sluggish with dread, and with each step she struggled to recall the woman her mother had once been. It took great effort, so deeply buried were the memories, locked away, hidden and deliberately forgotten. She had never dreamed she would revisit them, would ever need to pull them back up. But now that she did, she found they reappeared with startling clarity, like a forgotten newspaper clipping tucked away in the back of a photo album, unsullied by constant handling and so well preserved it looked almost new.
She saw then, in the pristine pictures of her mind, a phantom creature called simply ‘Mamma,’ a figure, though arguably more alive than the one before her now, who was no less impenetrable and remote, a woman at a distance from everything in the world, including her children and especially herself. She was a presence, a body, an extra chair at the table and it was completely of her own choosing.
Sophia Gustavez had once been stunningly beautiful, and if one chose to look, as Resa did now, vestiges of her beauty could be detected still; in the contours of her face, the slope of her cheeks and chin; the arch of her brow over heavy-lidded eyes; the grace of her neck as it splayed down into shoulders so thin as to be in constant need of a sweater, even in the summer months. But indications were all that were left; no effort had been made to maintain her beauty and what lingered was merely residue, traces of loveliness to let you know what had once been but was now no more.
“Hello, Mamma,” Resa said and though her voice was soft and hushed, it seemed to echo loudly in her own ears.
Her mother did not move; she had not expected her to. If Resa were to reach over to prick this woman with a needle, she suspected that even then no reaction would be had. It was as if she had withdrawn so completely into herself as to be disassociated from her own skin.
As she stood before her, Resa’s eyes fell to the thick window ledge where her mother’s right hand, so bony and thin, rested upon faded green, leather bible, the imprint of the ‘l’ and ‘e’ having been worn off over the years. Her left hand lay demurely in her skirt-covered lap, hidden among the folds of dark cloth, clutching a square of white Kleenex as if it were some sort of amulet to help ward off evil spirits.
Resa sat down uninvited on the window bench across from her mother, the cushion giving out a little sigh beneath her weight. And if Sophia Gustavez was even aware her daughter was there, she did not let on, did not even twitch. Resa was near enough to be able to smell her, should have been able to feel the other woman’s presence, but nothing registered, nothing came back. She might very well have been seated opposite a phantom, the illusion of a person and nothing more.
“It’s me,” she continued, maintaining the hush to her tone. “Resa.”
But the words swept through the older woman and seemed to carry on past her, to echo into the empty room beyond. They did not touch Sophia, left no trace upon her being, ever still and ever vacant, as they vanished into the surrounding darkness as if they had never been spoken at all.
Resa shivered. Her mind went blank. For the life of her she could not recall the reason behind her wanting to come to this place, just what it was she had only a half hour earlier needed so desperately to tell the woman before her. Instead a vertiginous sense of confusion began to overwhelm her, pounding into her like pusillanimous waves against the defenseless shoreline and before she knew what she was doing she was already halfway across the room. Her mind was too much a jumble for rationality as she quickly retraced the steps that brought her back to the lobby in a handful of seconds.
Jennifer was seated across the room on one of the sofas in the waiting area and rose at once when Resa emerged from the doorway.
“What is it?” Jennifer asked in concern as she moved to intercept her obviously distraught friend.
“I can not do this,” Resa said, running her hand through her hair several times with a tense frustration and pacing in tight circles. “She’s-- she’s not responding.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s just sitting there! It’s like…I’m not even there. Nothing registers.”
“But you knew that already. Both Tarquin and Mrs. Hood--“
“I know, I know what they said. But--it’s--seeing her is--“ She bit off her words, her jaw working overtime as she clenched and re-clenched her teeth. “I can’t do this.”
“Can’t do what, Resa? What did you come here for in the first place?” Jennifer reached out to lay a calming hand on Resa’s shoulder and the darker woman stopped her agitated movements at once to gaze down at her. “Tell me.”
Resa swallowed hard, the words coming to her with great difficulty, the underlying meaning still hazy even for her. “I--I…” She broke off, and bit the inside of her lower lip in an effort to get better hold of her feelings. She could feel a pressure building within her.
“What?” Jennifer prompted with sensitivity, putting her arm around the taller woman’s waist.
After a slight hesitation, Resa wet her lips and whispered, “I want her to see me.” Her voice was almost tremulous but she continued, for the first time giving words to what she felt inside. “To really see me. As I am now. Not how…” She ducked her head.
“How you used to be.”
Resa nodded and a fresh surge of shame at her past misdeeds cut through her with a sharpness born of self-awareness.
Then a small, strong hand cupped the side of her face and she heard the gentle tones of encouragement.
“Honey, listen to me.” Resa raised her head to meet a pair of patient green eyes. “Just talk to her.”
“And say what?”
“What you came here to say. And if she doesn’t hear you or doesn’t respond, that’s okay. As long as you speak what’s in your heart, that’s all that matters.”
“Speak what’s in my heart…” Resa repeated dubiously.
Jennifer nodded. “Yes.” Her smile was serenely confident.
“She probably won’t hear me.”
“But, it’s not really for her. Is it?”
Resa thought about that for a long moment, then shook her head.
“I didn’t think so,” Jennifer said knowingly.
A small smile flirted at the corners of Resa’s eyes. “When did you get so smart?” she murmured, relieved to be back on familiar teasing ground, if only briefly.
“Oh, I’ve always been smart. You’re just now catching on.” Jennifer winked and the tension within Resa began to dissipate. “Now,” her younger friend continued. “I’m going to wait out in the car. Come to me when you’re done.”
“Okay,” she said as she recovered her composure.
“I love you,” Jennifer said quietly and Resa greatly appreciative of the affirmation.
Moments later, the doors slid closed behind Jennifer’s bantam frame and Resa stood alone in the lobby.
Her mother was, of course, exactly where she left her. Staring out into the inky void that overlooked the front of the building, seeing God only knew what. If anything. For a trice she stood in the doorway and marveled at the imbroglio of her own emotions. In the silence Resa could hear her own breathing, slightly ragged, and the rhythm of her own pulse as it thundered in her own ears.
What am I afraid of? she wondered to herself. After all I’ve been through, all I’ve survived, why does this scare me so much?
The answer was not forthcoming. At least, not yet.
Resa again crossed the room, her steps more deliberate though no less wary, until she stood beside the seated figure and stared down at her. It was then she noticed for the first time that her mother wore her hair cut short.
Lamps from outside cast enough light across the older woman to bring the silver streaks in fine relief against her otherwise ebony hair. It was yet another discrepancy from her recollection of her mother. Sophia Gustavez had always worn her hair long, had taken indecorous pride in the of what she considered to be her greatest asset, often spending a foolish amount of the family’s limited income on expensive products that pampered her glorious mane. It was her most defining attribute. And now it was gone.
Resa wondered what had brought about the change, if it had been her mother’s decision or if it had been made by others who hadn’t the time or patience to maintain something so impractical as a grand tumble of hair on a woman barely able to care for herself. Strangely, Resa found she missed it.
She sat down again, in the same place as before, and stared at her mother’s quiescent face for what felt like hours but was in fact closer to a minute.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked, keeping her tone low. “Do you have any idea why I came here?”
Glassy eyes blinked but there was no hidden meaning behind the gesture. Merely involuntary body movement.
“I came to see you for a reason,” Resa continued and with each word that she managed to speak, her fear began to recede, allowing a curious mettle to creep forward to take its place. “I came to tell you…that I have hated you my whole life,” she said, her voice slightly louder and very hard. “I have cursed and despised you for longer than I can remember. You made my life an absolute hell. And I have no idea why. You were my mother. You should have loved me. At the very least, you should have taken care of me. Of all of us. Tarquin and Luis, too. But you didn’t, did you?”
Silence. Eerie and absolute. Dark eyes blinking. And nothing else.
Resa pressed on, lost to anything but the words that poured out of her.
“Do you know what happened to me after I left you? When I went to live with Alfons? Do you know what I became?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “A murderer. A drug dealer. A thief and a terrorist. I became every sort of evil that you can imagine and for the longest time, I couldn’t bring myself to care. For years, Mamma, I didn’t give a damn about human life because it didn’t mean anything to me. I’d been shown too often that life held no meaning. Despite what Grand Ma and Poppy may have tried to teach me, all I had to do was look to you to know the real story. You were my mother, you were supposed to care about me. But you didn’t. And that’s what I kept with me. That there was no such thing as love. Only self-interest. Greed. And I became a very greedy person, Mamma. Very. For years I grabbed as much as I could lay my hands on because I knew at any moment it could be taken away from me. And then one day it was. All of it. Gone. But, the funny thing was, Mamma, when it finally happened, when I went to jail for my part in killing a small boy…I found I didn’t care anymore. Hell, I didn’t care about anything, especially myself. I went from being the greediest mutherfucker conceivable to absolute emptiness. When I got out of prison, I didn’t give a shit about what happened to me in my life, where I ended up, what I did for a living because by then I had already given up on myself. I said all the right things to the people around me, the people who were trying to help me, and I’d learned enough to know that I didn’t ever want to go back to jail. Ever. I’d do anything to avoid that. So I helped out with the priest who tried his best to save me and I struggled to feel. Every single day. I tried and tried and tried to feel. I wanted it so bad…but it never happened.
“Until one day...” Her voice softened for the first time and her eyes drifted away from her mother’s face as she lost herself to a memory so sweet she felt tears threaten. “…when I met someone. Someone who believed in me for me. Someone who could look into my eyes and see goodness and hope… Someone who could love me.” She swallowed against the swell of emotion that pressed against her chest. “I never thought that would happen. Not to me. But it did. Someone actually loves me. And I love her.” She shook her head in wonder. “More than I ever thought possible.” A smile spread across her face lighting her up from the inside out. “Her name’s Jennifer Logan. She’s a writer and she’s incredible. We met by chance a year and a half ago and as hard as I tried to get rid of her, for her own good, she wouldn’t leave. She still won’t and if I’m lucky, she never will.
“She’s been very good for me, you know. She’s taught me all sorts of things in our time together but most of all she’s taught me to accept myself for who I am. That it’s okay to forgive myself, that I don’t have to live a life in seclusion or to die to be absolved of my sins. I can be forgiven right here and now, if I truly mean it. If I let myself. That was a hard one for me but I think I’m starting to get it now. I hope…”
Her words trailed off briefly, then she regained her focus and looked up into her mother’s face. “You know what else I realized today, Mamma? For my whole life I have let myself be your victim. Even when I didn’t know I was doing it, when I just thought I was just hating you for being such a lousy mother. But it was a lot more than that. I was blaming you and hating your.” Subconsciously she straightened and raised her jaw. “But that stops today. I am my own person now. I have the opportunity to become more than I ever thought possible for myself and you know what, Mamma? I’m gonna take it. With both hands. And then I’m never gonna look back. Never.”
The word echoed in cavernous room, ringing off the walls and rebounding back upon them with even greater impact.
“I know you can’t hear me,” Resa said, lowering her voice. “Or you don’t know what I’m saying. But Jennifer was right. I needed to say this more for myself than anything else. It won’t change anything. It won’t bring back my childhood or make you have loved me or Tarquin or Luis, but at least I’ll know I said it. I was your child. You should have cared about me…but you didn’t. And you know what, Mamma?” Her voice cracked a bit. “I forgive you for it.” She swallowed, then continued. “You had a bad life. Most of it was of your making. But a lot of it came down on you from the outside and though I wish you would have found a better way of handling it than you did, I don’t blame you for it anymore. I have too much to look forward to in my own life now. I have a life to look forward to. And that’s all that matters. My future, for myself, with Jennifer. That’s all that really will ever matter, because she’s my family now. And I’m hers. I can’t help the family I was born into but I’m responsible for the family I choose to make my own and from where I’m standing, I’ve chosen the best.” Her voice lowered a notch as she repeated, “The very best.”
She let the last three words fade away and lost herself to reflection. Her heart beat wildly, as if she had just run the hundred-yard dash, but deep within she knew she was satisfied. She had expelled the poison she hadn’t even been aware she carried inside and the seeds of integrity began to germinate. Suddenly, she found she no longer wanted to be there, in that room, talking her peace. Instead she was eager to leave, to be done with all this and take up the waiting reigns of her own life.
And it was then that a movement caught her eye.
She instinctively turned her head toward the motion then froze as the blood plunge away from her cheeks, only to return in full force an instant later.
Her mother’s right hand, the one that had been resting on the window’s ledge, reached inside the front cover of the well-worn leather bound bible and slowly extracted a white square of paper from within.
Resa glanced quickly to her mother’s face to find the dark eyes now slightly downcast but she was otherwise impassive and unchanged.
She returned her attention to the slip of paper as her mother placed it on the window’s ledge and slid it in Resa’s direction. She clearly intended for her daughter to take it.
Resa picked up the paper with nervous fingers and only then realized it was a photograph. She turned it over and a sob choked in her throat at what she saw.
She remembered this picture. Instantly. How could she ever forget? It had been the Christmas before Luis died, when they had gathered together for one of the few, if only, photographs of all three Gustavez children that had ever been taken.
Four days before that Christmas, Resa had managed to scrounge up an evergreen tree from some vacant lot behind an abandoned apartment building and had dragged it fifteen blocks to where they lived. In spite of her mother’s protests that the pine needles were going to get everywhere -- which they did-- she and Luis had placed it next to the front window of their apartment. Tarquin had mocked her shamefully when he came home from the Junior College and saw her pitiable, Charlie Brown tree. But she hadn’t cared. She’d told him to turn around and leave if he didn’t have anything nice to say and then went back to decorating the branches with every conceivable ornament she could find. Popcorn on a thread. Cutouts from magazines. A raggedy string of lights that had the misfortune to blink, thus irritating her mother to no end and relegating the amount of time they could be on to about half an hour before Mamma complained about how they gave her a migraine. And no angel at the top because the tree branch wasn’t strong enough to hold one.
It had been, when all was said and done, the most pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree that one could imagine and at the time Resa was more than a little embarrassed by it. But she was also too stubborn to look for a replacement, not with Tarquin making fun of her over it and certainly not when she saw how much love Luis had put into its creation. No, then she could never take it back for Luis’ happiness was, in so many ways, her responsibility and she did not treat that charge lightly.
So instead she had insisted they take a picture of the tree for posterity, somehow convincing a neighbor to loan them their camera and film and then managed to talk that same neighbor -- whose name escaped her but whom she recalled smelled of cigars and Old Spice aftershave -- into taking the snapshot of all three siblings standing before the blinking monument to her own obstinacy.
When they got the photo back from the neighbor, Resa remembered her sense of disappointment upon viewing it for the first time. The picture wasn’t at all how she had imagined it would be. Instead of the Rockwellian testament to familial cohesion, the image captured revealed Tarquin looking bored and petulant, Resa smiling with far too much enthusiasm to ever appear genuine and Luis with his eyes half-closed, making him appear vaguely drunk. It was the sort of photograph any other family would have discarded, having dozens of others to frame and admire. Only, the Gustavez’s had no such luxury. There was only this one. But in the years since then, when she allowed herself the indulgence of a fond memory of her childhood, it was on that moment that she looked back with the most affection. Because it was the three of them together. For one of the last times.
She had thought it lost, had long since given up any hope of being able to see the picture again and resigned herself to rely on her own memory for any means of recollection. Yet, here it now was, in the possession of the one person who she would never have assumed to even want such a sentimental item, had never given any indication she would desire a memento of the family that, by all accounts, had been as much a disappointment as a burden.
Fighting back on her emotions, Resa glanced up from the photograph…
…and straight into her mother’s piercing dark eyes. Eyes that were now staring directly at her. No longer unfocussed. No longer unclear. No longer devoid.
Her heart stopped. Sweat broke out at the back of her neck and along her brow. She couldn’t possibly breathe. She’d forgotten how.
In that one, fleeting moment, she saw something she had never before seen in the entire course of her life – she saw her mother. As real, as connected, as human as she had ever been and would ever again prove to be. Boring deep into Resa’s immortal soul and touching her on the one level that only she, Sophia Gustavez, could possibly touch. She saw her. Knew her. Forgave her. And, in turn, accepted her mother’s forgiveness.
It all happened in what amounted to a handful of seconds, moments that would never be repeated again. Then Mrs. Hood called kindly from the doorway,
And the moment, as fragile as filament, was broken. Dark eyes dimmed and her lids grew heavy once more.
“It’s time to go to bed, Mrs. Gustavez.”
Taking up her bible, Sophia placed her bony right hand on the arm of her chair and raised herself on unsteady legs. Resa instinctively reached out to help her mother, her fingers wrapping around the older woman’s achingly thin elbow and providing support until she secured her balanced. For a fraction of a second they stood side by side and Resa experienced a sense of suffocating poignancy the likes of which she had never before known as she gazed down upon the woman whose frailty and sorrow managed to slip past a lifetime’s worth of defenses to break her heart.
“Mamma,” she whispered, but her voice caught and she found she didn’t know what else to say. Not that it mattered. Sophia Gustavez was back in her shell, on her way, no longer accessible.
It was then that Resa remembered the photograph, still held with great care in her left hand. She had but an instant to make her decision and with lightning speed she took two full strides forward and slipped the photograph into the right pocket of Sophia’s plumb colored cardigan sweater. Then she stepped aside and watched with a transcendent longing as her mother crossed the room. With an abstract eye she noted her mother’s agonizingly slow gait and her precarious carriage, tilting somewhat to the left, as if at any moment she would topple at the slightest provocation, though she never did. Her shoes scraped across the linoleum, echoing with every shuffled step she made and when she reached the doorway, she passed through without hesitation, out of sight, never raising her head as she went, never looking back at all. And Resa wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if the woman had actually vanished the moment the door closed behind her, evaporated into the ether like a ghost.
Mrs. Hood smiled in Resa’s direction and said, “I hope you got what you came for.” Then she too passed through the doorway and was gone, swallowed up by the same vacuity.
For several minutes after, Resa sat alone, absorbing the stillness and hush that surrounded her from without. But within… Within her heart there began an inescapable trembling that she could not possibly subdue. It was as if someone had placed a drop of radiating fear into the center of her being and she could feel the effects as they suffused throughout the whole of her body, leaving her shaken.
She became vaguely aware of tears brimming in her eyes, then tumbling out, but she could not actually feel them even as they slid down her face and neck and eventually her chest, where they were absorbed by the material of her dress. She began to tremble. At first it was only tiny shakes, the kind that typically accompany the first chill of the approaching winter evening. But they grew more pronounced. She squeezed her hands into fists and stepped forward on legs both unmistakably strong and uniquely determined. And with each step she grew more resolute, until the next thing she knew she was passing the familiar front desk and exiting through the automatic doors to find herself surrounded, once again, by the inky obscurity of night.
Resa stopped on the edge of the parking lot, closing her eyes made blind by the quick change from brightness to dark. Her throat worked uncontrollably as panic rose like bile. A moment later she heard the sound of a car door opening. She quickly glanced to her left and saw a light twinkle briefly as Jennifer climbed out of her Lexus, shutting the door behind her as she came forward. But now Resa had a fix on her and it was in that direction she headed, slowly at first, then cleaving through the night with mounting desperation.
“Resa,” Jennifer said as she came around the front of the car, concern resonating in the lilt of her tone and it was at that moment Resa began to cry. Great, billowing sobs that shook her shoulders and rattled her soul. And when Jennifer’s figure rose up from the shadows to greet her, she fell upon the smaller woman as if in the grips of an almost disconsolate grief.
Jennifer’s strong arms came around her at once, wrapping her tight in their embrace even as she staggered back a bit under the unexpected weight, falling against the Lexus’ passenger door. Some part of Resa’s awareness told her she was too heavy for the other woman, that she should pull away, yet she only succeeded in tugging Jennifer closer, holding her tighter as she drowned in uncontrollable tears. She wept and wept with a pathetic lack of restraint and dignity, to the point where she struggled to breathe and was oblivious to her whereabouts.
Jennifer held her throughout. She stroked Resa’s back and cooed softly, “It’s all right…it’s all right…I’ve got you…I’ve got you…” as her friend surrendered the anguish she had retained within herself for longer than she could possibly have realized.
Minutes spun away into the night. But gradually, as every ounce of sorrow and suffering spilled from her and trickled to the wayside, Resa’s sobs subsided…slowly…slowly, until she was left completely empty and as weak as a newborn foal. She rested her forehead on Jennifer’s shoulder, turning her face into the other woman’s neck. Strong hands continued to play against Resa’s back, touching her, ameliorating her with every stroke.
“I’ve got you,” she heard Jennifer say, feeling the warmth of the younger woman’s breath tingle against her ear and in that instant it was as if a spark had been struck in the core of her being. A desire different from any other spread within her, throughout her, until it was the only thing she knew, the singular truth that she recognized. She did not question it, did not attempt to decipher its underlying meaning but rather gave herself over to its authority without reservation.
Resa cupped the back of Jennifer’s head and found her companion’s mouth with her own, kissing her with a fierceness that, on some level, startled them both. But she could not stop, did not know quite how to battle back on the hunger that governed her and was uncertain if she even wanted to. She took sustenance from their embrace, drew strength from their bond and found as the kiss continued that the hollowness that had opened up only moments earlier was at long last receding.
Then Jennifer gave a little moan of pleasure and Resa was inexorably lost.
She pressed the smaller woman hard against the side of the car, her impatient fingers tugging the silken blouse free and her hand sliding up the solid, flat stomach, over the dips and turns of ribs made more pronounced by the ragged edge to her breathing until she felt the weight of Jennifer’s breast against her palm. She was dimly aware of the inappropriateness of their present setting, though undoubtedly the nighttime disguised the specifics of their actions. But even still, she knew she required more concealment than this.
Resa snaked her arm around Jennifer’s hips and pulled the smaller woman up, feeling Jennifer’s legs as they wrapped around her waist, holding her tight as their kiss remained unbroken. Seconds later Resa had the car’s door open and both women fell onto the backseat in a hopeless mesh of mutual desire. Jennifer undulated beneath her and in mere seconds their clothes were tossed aside without hesitation. They made love then and there with a dizzying abandon and Resa experienced an urgency of need that pushed past the borders of reckless.
Her eyes never left her companion’s face and she discovered she could not touch her enough. In all her years, she had never felt like this, had never been held so utterly captive by forces seemingly outside her control. Raw need. It was primitive and all consuming and she was helpless in its grasp. But where would she be without it? Without Jennifer? Without her love and understanding?
Lost, she thought. I
would be so very, very lost…
And later, as their breathing slowed and their bodies curved together in a crazy, sweaty tangle, there came, in the back of Resa’s mind, the traces of a vaguely familiar melody, playing over and over and over, until she found herself humming it softly, trying to place it. Then, as if a voice outside herself was whispering in her ear, she heard the words and recognized the tune. She almost smiled, understanding why the song chose this moment to appear to her, and closed her eyes, rubbing her cheek against the top of Jennifer’s head as she half murmured, half sang,
“’I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form… Come in, she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm…’”
* * * *
They arrived home sometime after ten. In the interim since leaving the facility, a calm silence of understanding and connection arose between them that lasted the entire drive home.
When they entered the house, both immediately headed upstairs where Jennifer prepared for sleep while Resa ventured out onto the second story balcony off the bedroom and gazed over the city that spread before her like an ocean of light.
The wind touched her skin. Resa closed her eyes against the feel of it, enjoying the momentary state of relaxation, though her body still vibrated from the intensity of her visit to her mother…as it probably would for a good while to come.
She was aware enough to recognize that she would need a great deal of time to allow for perspective before she could begin to comprehend the full implication of what had transpired. But, still, a part of her marveled at the awesome nature of the entire experience, and the healing she felt inside, a healing born from forgiveness.
She hadn’t known how much she needed to find her mother again, to gaze upon her and ultimately forgive her, until the moment the words passed her lips. She instinctively recognized their righteousness and felt, as soon as she gave them voice, the first full effect of their power. It was beyond anything she could have imagined, this need to forgive in order to be forgiven. In hindsight, it seemed obvious, but it had never before entered her mind that the person she most needed in life to confront was her mother. Sophia Gustavez. Demon of her childhood, source of so much pain in her youth and well beyond. Yet, now she understood that was the case, knew it from the inside where the tingles and vibrations continued to radiate throughout the entirety of her body and soul, restoring the parts of her that were wounded and ignored for too long. Bringing to her a much needed sense of closure…and of new beginning.
Resa inhaled deeply and let out a long sigh, releasing into the night all the tension she had held within for as long as she could recall, likely even longer than that, releasing it from the prison of her inner self and finding, upon its liberation, that she did not miss it in the slightest.
And it was like this that Jennifer found her, standing with her stubborn chin thrust into the breeze and her long hair lifted away from her face as if she were an angel about to take flight over the hillside.
For a minute Jennifer Logan remained quiet, watching Resa and marveling at her presence. It had been a long day, a full day, the sort that made one feel as if it had somehow been stretched well beyond its allotted twenty-four hours, that perhaps an extra week had somehow been slipped in when no one was looking. But despite the exhaustion she felt at that moment, she knew beyond a doubt that it had all been worth it. Just to see Resa standing with her head tipped back, allowing herself to be open to the whole world and so utterly different from the closed, distrustful creature she had once been…
A tiny shudder went through her, reminding her of how easily things could have turned out different, how many obstacles they had had to surmount to get them where they were today. It was a miracle really. An absolute miracle.
Jennifer inclined her head to one side and caught the fleeting, distinct scent of Resa that still clung to her own skin, left over from their earlier encounter in the car. A warmth swept over her as she thought back to the almost frenzied passion with which they had made love, as if it had been near desperation on Resa’s part and though Jennifer had at first wanted to determine what was going on with her companion, she chose instead to abstain from questioning in order to give to Resa what she so clearly needed. As they laid together afterwards, their sweat-drenched bodies joined in the mutually awkward position afforded them by the Lexus’ back seat, she pressed her ear to her companion’s chest and listened as her heartbeat gradually slowed its tempo. And when it was once again at peace, she knew then that was what the woman truly needed. Peace. And she had found it. They had found it. Together.
“You look beautiful standing there,” Jennifer said softly.
A smile inched along Resa’s lips, pulling at the corner of her mouth and leaving her to appear even more content. She turned to fully face Jennifer, opened her eyes and held out her arms by way of invitation. The younger woman accepted immediately and reveled in the feel of being held by her lover. Perhaps someday she would take such an embrace for granted, years from now when they had at long last developed the actual history to match the feelings they each already carried within, perhaps then she would come to expect no less a display of affection from her chosen companion. But for now it was still fresh and she cherished such a demonstration for the treasure it was.
“Besotted,” she said into Resa’s shoulder, her voice slightly muffled by the soft fabric of the black dress.
Resa frowned in confusion. “What?” she asked, certain she hadn’t heard quite right.
“Be-sot-ted,” Jennifer repeated, exaggerating the syllables in such a way as to make Resa smile. “I always thought it was a very silly word. The kind only British people used in movies based on something one of the Bronte sisters wrote.” She leaned back a bit until she could read Resa’s dubiously amused expression. “But as I was looking at you just now, I realized that’s what I am. I am besotted. With you.” Resa’s indulgent grin, deepened and her eyes twinkled. “And I think I always have been. Right from the beginning.”
“Yep.” She nodded her head with enthusiasm.
Resa chuckled and pulled her tighter against her, plopping a short, firm kiss on the top of her head. They stood for several moments in silence before Jennifer mumbled,
“So…” letting her words drift off as if Resa could read her mind and know what next to say.
But Resa, not quite at the stage in their relationship where she knew precisely what her partner was thinking without necessarily having to be said, frowned again. “Are you being deliberately random?” she murmured.
“Nope. “ A sweet smile spread across Jennifer’s face. “Just naturally so.”
“So…do you remember when we first met?”
“Of course.” Resa grew ironic. “I did get shot, after all.”
“No, no.” Jennifer shook her head and shifted back a little more until Resa’s arms held her loosely. “I mean the first moment. Before things went all Quentin Tarintino. Do you remember it?”
“Yes.” The single word was low and resonated with emotion.
“What were you thinking? When you first saw me. Did you have a first impression? Did you like me or did you think I was a total brat?” Resa rolled her eyes and Jennifer cocked her head to one side. “Seriously, I’m kinda curious. What did you think?”
She felt Resa’s breath as she let out a sigh that ruffled her hair. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly have a conscious thought. More of a…” Dark brows furrowed in concentration. “…a gut reaction.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I remember watching Manny leave the bar and knowing that he wasn’t about to let things go without more of a fight, not with the way he felt about me. Then I spoke to Palo, thanked him. And that’s when I looked over at you…and I felt…” Her voice trailed off as she recalled the specific sensation that had taken over her at that moment.
“What?” Jennifer prompted, eager to know more, wanting to re-experience what was, for her at least, such a seminal event.
Resa was quiet for a long time as she struggled to put into words something she barely understood. “It’s hard to explain. But, for a split second, when I looked at you…I had this—this feeling like some giant invisible hand reached out and grabbed hold of me and I was sort of…well, caught.” She chuckled and rested her cheek against the warmth of Jennifer’s temple. “I should have turned and ran right then, when I had the chance.”
“No way,” Jennifer laughed. “I’d have just found you somehow. Face it, we were meant to be together. T’was the Fates conspiring.”
“Sure. Look at all the things that happened so we could meet each other. I mean, we’re as different as different can be, come from different parts of the country, different backgrounds, have different life experiences and, yet, here we are. When you think about it, we’re like little puzzle pieces that have these weird shapes and bumps and don’t seem to work anywhere in the big picture yet, when placed side by side, end up fitting together perfectly.” She stopped a moment, enjoying the sound of the word. “We just fit,” she repeated, earning a wry look from her companion.
“You’re not gonna quote Jerry Maguire are you?”
Jennifer immediately began to sign exaggeratedly as she mocked, “You.” She pointed to Resa. “Complete.” She clasped hands together. “Me.” She slapped her chest then grimaced in pain at the accompanying thump and they both cracked up.
“That is not sign language,” Resa said through her laughter.
“It’s Pig Sign Language,” she said with a wink. “A little unorthodox, but fun.”
“Pig Sign Language? Does that mean every word ends in an ‘A’?”
“Actually, the ‘A’ comes in a variety of places, which gives each sentence a bad Italian feeling. Like--“
“Mamma Mia, that’sa spica meataball?”
“Exactly! See? See how we fit? You complete me. Or at least my sentences. Plus, you’re very tall and can reach all the upper shelves in the pantry without a stepladder, which is very important to those of us who were picked last in basketball. Honestly, what more could I want in a partner?”
“So, that’s all I am to you? An excuse not to buy a stepladder?”
“Partly. There’s also the unbridled sex.”
“Interesting,” she said with a nod. “Of course, we could always try it with the bridle if you’d like.”
“Yes. Yes, we could,” Jennifer nodded as well, enjoying the banter. “But let’s work up to that. After all, it’s good to have goals.”
Resa let out a mock sigh. “If you insist,” she said as she took hold of Jennifer’s hand and led her to the lounge chair in which they had sat earlier that morning.
“I do,” Jennifer tweaked, lowering herself beside the dark-haired woman’s much larger frame and delighting in the perfect way in which their bodies came together as they laid down beneath the canopy of the clear nighttime sky.
Resa dipped her head into the crook of Jennifer’s neck, inhaling the warm, distinctive scent that surrounded the younger woman and left her senses feeling just a little drunk. She closed her eyes and drew Jennifer close to her body once more, still somewhat amazed at how desperately she yearned for the comfort of contact between them. It was a strange notion, this absolute hunger for the touch of another, but undeniable and well beyond her control. What she had been like in her past no longer seemed to matter; there was only now and the future that awaited them. Indeed, the violent wild-child afraid to let anyone near her was already a faded memory, replaced by the woman coming to terms with her own basic needs and finding the strength within herself to admit to having them. It was a remarkable enough transformation for even Resa to recognize, which was saying a lot.
“I remember something else from when we first met,” Resa said, her quiet voice close to Jennifer’s ear. “Before the bullets started to fly.”
“Yeah?” Jennifer matched her lowered tone. “What’s that?”
“I remember sitting in that booth and shaking your hand good-bye…” Resa continued, pulling back slightly. “…and yet somehow knowing that it wasn’t really good-bye.” Her eyes met Jennifer’s own as she again recalled the encounter that had changed both their lives. “I remember looking at you and feeling your hand in mine and thinking how small it was but also how strong and steady and warm.” A tingle shot up Jennifer’s spine. “And then the next thing I knew I was watching you walk across the bar and I felt this incredible…urge to go after you. It was like…like panic. I didn’t even think about it. Just called out for you to stop, which you did, and the next thing I knew I was trying desperately to think of some reason for you to not leave. Fortunately, I remembered Manny and his gang--”
Jennifer let out an involuntary laugh. “’Fortunately’ is not the word I would have chosen,” she said even as she reveled in the pleasure of hearing her own impact on the woman who had taught her how to love.
“Yeah, well, you know what I mean.”
And Jennifer did, but there was a part of her that couldn’t help toying with her partner. “So, if you didn’t want to lose me then why did you try so hard to get rid of me later?”
“For your sake. Things had gotten out of control and I was hoping to get rid of you before the Vartans could figure out who you were and retaliate.” She smiled. “But you wouldn’t leave.”
“And now it looks like I won’t be getting rid of you anytime soon.”
“Again I say, damn right!”
“I gather that’s okay with you then,” Resa murmured, both amused and delighted. “The not leaving.”
“Of course. After all, we have a bridle to work towards.”
“Oh, of course.” Resa kissed her twice upon the warm, ever so inviting lips. “I wouldn’t forget that.”
Silence descended for several minutes and Jennifer was starting to relax just enough to grow sleepy when Resa stirred her with her next statement.
“I feel a little guilty,” she said softly.
Surprised, Jennifer pulled back and frowned at her. “Why?”
Blue eyes looked sheepish. “I never thought I’d be this happy,” Resa admitted.
Relief flooded the younger woman who in turn smiled. “Well, get used to it,” she said, poking her finger into Resa’s chest. “Because I intend to do everything in my power to make you this happy for a very long time.”
“But we won’t always be,” Resa pointed out, her brows knitted slightly in concern.
“That’s true,” Jennifer agreed. “We’re both too strong-willed to not fight. But that’s just part of any relationship.” She squeezed Resa’s hand. “I’m not worried about it. We’ll get through whatever we need to, I’m sure of it. We have too good of a foundation.”
Resa listened and felt that tiny sliver of concern fall by the wayside. It was the answer she knew and had expected, but she wanted to address the point nonetheless, knowing that communication was the key to every good relationship and it was an instrument she needed to learn to play if she was ever going to be a successful partner in their particular duet. With that in mind, however, she realized there was also another thorny subject that had been bothering her for the past few hours, one that she found she could not escape, so she asked,
“What about your mother?”
Jennifer sighed, rubbing her forehead against Resa’s broad shoulder as a wave of fatigue crested over her. “What about her?” she grumbled.
The dark-haired women slipped two fingers under her companion’s chin and tipped her head up so their eyes could meet. “Do you think what your father said was true? That she’ll calm down and come around?”
Jennifer took several minutes to genuinely consider the question, not really wanting to address the issue but also recognizing Resa’s own need to better understand the always complicated nature of her familial relationship.
“Honestly,” she said after a long pause. “Yes and no. Obviously she’ll calm down. Otherwise Dad will have to sedate her…” She cocked her head to one side. “…which sounds strangely appealing at the moment.” The two women shared a brief grin before Jennifer grew serious again. “But, as for coming around…well, that’ll take time. She’s a stubborn lady and I know this whole revelation isn’t what she wanted for me. I know she had all sorts of dreams, what with me being her only daughter. But I can’t live my life for the expectations of others. Including her. Especially her. And, deep down I know she doesn’t really want me to. She’s an independent person. Very smart. And she doesn’t always conform to the rules, either, so on some level, after the initial shock has worn off, I honestly think there’s a chance she might allow herself to accept us. It would make her happier if I was with a man, sure. I understand that. Even I know life would be tons easier in all of the superficial areas if I was with a guy. But I want more out of life than superficial ease. I want happiness. I want fulfillment.” Her voice lowered a notch. “I want love.”
“You have it,” Resa assured her, tightening her hold around the smaller woman’s waist.
Jennifer’s eyes shimmering a bit in the moonlight. “I know,” she whispered and leaned forward to place a long, tender kiss upon her companion’s awaiting lips. “I know.” She laid herself back down, resting her cheek against Resa’s chest and soaking up the warmth of their embrace. “I want Mom to accept me,” she continued after a bit, trying her best to explain her heart to Resa. “But I don’t need her to.” She turned her head to lay a quick kiss against her lover’s neck. “You’re the only one I really need.”
“Thank you,” Resa whispered, knowing that there were no words in existence that could ever fully summarize how much thanks, indeed, that she owed to the woman by her side. All she did know for certain is that she would spend the rest of her life trying to find a way to ensure her companion knew the full extent of her gratitude and commitment.
“You’re welcome,” Jennifer answered as her eyes slowly closed of their own accord and she gave in at last to the yawn that had been threatening for quite a while.
Moments later, Resa joined her and together the rhythm of their breathing slowed to the lead them to the edge of unconsciousness. A quiet contentment descended over the two women as the toll of the long day finally came forward to take its claim…
….and we, dear readers, will use this opportunity to make our departure, leaving them cradled in the night’s gentle embrace, and watching as they’re drawn into a peaceful slumber so well deserved after a long, arduous yet ultimately triumphant day. You may have questions left unanswered but all I will say of their future is this: Beneath the stars they will sleep, comfortable and secure, until somewhere past midnight one will groggily awaken, wipe tired eyes and, noting their surroundings, gently prod the other to climb out of sleep and into bed where, for an hour or so, sleep is banished entirely as more pressing interests are pursued. Interests that are wholly their own and not ours upon which to intrude.
And so the day ends much as it began, with the two women nestling in each others arms, grateful beyond measure for that embrace and all the meaning that it contains within. Their first day together as a couple is behind them, their first definite, defiant, tumultuous and true step in what will prove to be a long and fulfilling journey has been taken. Many more steps will follow, of course, some confident and assured, some hesitant and some downright awkward. But what is important to note is that, regardless of the missteps and stumbles, the steep hills and surprising turns that await them, they will take this journey side-by-side.
And you can rest assured, my friends, that by simply having the strength to be themselves, no matter what, the courage of these two women, in parts great and small, though never, ever insignificant, will change the world…