Kat smacked her hand down on the kitchen counter. “You lied!”
“No, I kept you in the dark.”
“Withholding the truth is still a lie, Jenna!”
My resolve was slipping at the sight of tears on her face, but I lifted my chin. “I was protecting you.”
“Well, we both know how well that worked out, don’t we?” She snorted and crossed her arms, looking away from me.
“When you calm down, we can discuss this rationally.” I palmed my keys off the decorative hanger on the wall and grabbed my jacket off the back of one of the dining room chairs.
“Jenna Swallow, don’t you dare walk out on me!” Kat screamed.
A shriller, childish wail echoed her and then continued piercing the air. Essie.
I gritted my teeth and shut the front door, making my way down the front walk to my car. Ever since we’d added to the family, I had insisted Kat park in the garage. It was a shorter distance and provided protection from the elements while getting in and out of the car. Most days, I didn’t care about our arrangement. I’d parked on the street back in Chicago. But right now, I wished I didn’t have to walk that trek because it was pouring.
The cold, spring rain drenched my hair and shoulders before I could get my jacket on. I could barely see through the tears I’d finally let loose, as it was, and my head was pounding as hard as my heart. Only one thought kept going through my mind.
I have to get out of here. I need air.
Katrina Swallow was my world. I’d never felt so blessed in my life to have her by my side. And I’d never have thought that I’d be here right now. All those years without her had seemed like I wasn’t living.
Yet, at this moment, I couldn’t be around her. Not when she wouldn’t see reason.
The car door slammed a little harder than I’d intended. And I feared I may have left tire marks at the curb when I shifted and stomped down on the gas pedal. It was a wonder I didn’t hydroplane.
I had no idea where I was going. I just drove. Up one street and down another. Usually, the beauty of Northampton’s scenery calmed me. But nothing registered right now except the pain in my chest.
We rarely fought. When we had argued in the past, we had never yelled at each other. It was crushing to my very soul that something like this had escalated to that degree…and so quickly. The dreary sky matched my miserable mood. Textbook depressing.
After a while, I pulled over at a park our family frequented for various events. I needed to just sit. Think.
I was suddenly wishing I was back in Chicago and could go to Maggie’s. In the five years since we’d move out east, I’d not especially missed the bar. I had Kat now. And my sister and Joanie and the clubs they introduced us to. But there was something about Maggie’s that just couldn’t be replicated. I felt comfortable there. Accepted. Respected. And if I needed to disappear on my own for a bit from the rest of the world, I knew I could do it there, despite Brad’s threat that a sad-looking lezzie in a bar like that could mean open-season if one weren’t careful.
That thought process made me cross my arms on the steering wheel and lean my chin on my arms while I watched rivulets of water on the windshield, distorting my view of the park. Maybe it wasn’t Maggie’s I was missing. Maybe it was Brad. He’d always been there to lend a mostly-unbiased ear to listen to me vent. I didn’t have anyone out here to go to for advice. Someone I trusted who wasn’t directly involved in any of my relationships.
My mind’s memory vaults opened, and I recalled my first night with Kat. How she’d tried to be so strong. Confronting Danny. Cracking jokes in the emergency room. Subtly flirting with me after I got her back to her apartment. Once I’d realized what she was doing, I had been so nervous. She was the one and only person I really wanted in this world, and it had taken twenty years for us to be together. I had been most afraid that I would screw it up. I’d been pleasantly surprised by how well she had accepted having sex with a woman…with me.
It had only gotten better as the days had gone on. Weeks had turned into months. There had been no doubt that we’d go to Tuscany. The honeymoon trip had been nonrefundable, and Kat had been adamant that we use it for ourselves, screwing over Danny. I had been excited about that trip. I’d known it would give me a chance to show her yet another world I was familiar with.
I cringed, remembering how I’d not told her the extent of my overseas experiences. She’d been ticked then, too, when she’d found out. I sure had gotten off on the wrong foot with trying to impress her…and later protect her.
When I’d walked in on her and Lucio, the delivery man, in the villa’s kitchen… I had never truly understood the saying “seeing red” until that moment. I’d thought leaving Kat by herself would give us both time to cool off from her meltdown. Even though Lucio had been quick to explain all was not what I’d assumed, the damage had been done. escort I couldn’t take back my words. After he had left, I’d realized I was projecting my previous lovers’ actions onto Kat. They’d all left me. Subconsciously, I guess I’d assumed it was only a matter of time before she did, too. I just hadn’t expected her to cheat on me first…especially with a guy.
We’d kissed. Made up. Things had seemed to be back on track when we’d headed home. I’d thought the surprise stops in Florence and Paris would please her. Instead, Kat had spent most of the time on a rollercoaster of emotions. Especially when I’d disclosed the extent of my time I’d previously spent in the country…when I’d suggested we spend a day apart in the city of love. But she’d managed. Found a vault of strength within herself. And as a result, we’d explored a deeper side of us as a couple that had been oh, so delicious.
It was getting stuffy in the car. Thankfully, the rain had stopped. It was much cooler outside with a breeze, but it felt good on my warm cheeks. I walked the nearest path that meandered through a cluster of trees. On the other side was the perfect place for my next thoughtful spot.
The benches of the amphitheater were wet, but my jacket was long enough to protect me from whatever water I couldn’t brush away. As I sat and stared at the empty stage, I tried to remember each of the concerts we’d enjoyed. But there were so many, they’d all pretty much run together. Even so, they’d all been fun times. Lots of laughter shared. The snuggling under the stars while listening to good music. Just being together.
One night stood out among the rest. It had just been Kat and me at the time. The day had been cool, and the threat of rain that evening had kept most of the usual crowd away. I’d surprised her by recreating her little stunt on the trip back to Florence after our two weeks in Tuscany. Except instead of on a moving train, I’d pleasured her from under a blanket while we were sitting alone in the back corner of the outdoor stage, the rest of the audience oblivious while they listened to a summer concert.
Thinking of music, there was the first time we had gone out on a fancy date. The event at Excalibur Club. I’d always considered Kat a sexy woman. But that night, she’d openly embraced her relationship with me in public. Standing up to Danny at the restaurant. Seducing me on the dance floor. That had also been the night she’d finally said we could both enjoy her first piece of jewelry. When I’d ratcheted up the bondage factor. I’d been in such awe of her that evening, I kept asking myself how I’d gotten so lucky. I still did on a daily basis.
Then there was the Christmas party at Maggie’s. I’d been looking forward to celebrating the holiday there with Kat for months…and equally bummed when she had said she’d rather spend it somewhere more private. Don’t even get me started on why I thought it was a good idea to suggest we do a nude exhibitionist scene at the club. I was so glad she’d put the kibosh on it from the start. What she’d planned behind my back had turned out even better. I was speechless and extremely turned on when she’d appeared on stage in that skimpy Santa Claus-inspired outfit and did a pole routine, complete with a partial striptease. She’d accomplished what I’d been unable to put into words. She was showing off in her own way…because she’d wanted to and was comfortable with it. Not because I’d requested it of her.
I had already been planning to propose on Christmas Day. Sleep had come so hard once we’d returned home from the party. Even after our relaxing bath, I had kept envisioning her sexy little dance. How she had impressed me with the way she’d handled the run-in with Lauren and Celeste. But I’d eventually drifted off with her snug in my arms, and Kat had made the magical morning even more perfect by saying she’d be my wife.
My breaths shuddered more and more now with each memory. A chill seeped in from the breeze that picked up and sent my mostly-dry hair flying about my face. I wrapped my arms around myself, both for warmth and for comfort.
Sure, we had our share of bumps along the way. Pleasant surprises mixed with unexpected situations. Any relationship had that. And we came out better on the other side. We had become stronger as a couple because of our experiences together…not in spite of.
But had I gotten complacent over time, expecting us to be invincible? Become more of a mother to her instead of her partner in some ways? Feeling the need to protect her by keeping information from her, thinking she wouldn’t be able to handle it?
The clarity I had found wasn’t anywhere near what I had expected this trip to provide. When my stomach rumbled, I saw that it was well after two o’clock. I’d stormed out of the house late this morning. I had been so absorbed with my thoughts I’d missed lunch. That was at least one problem I could solve.
With a deep sigh, I made my way back to the car, cranked on the heat, and drove to a little izmit escort bayan dive bar I knew was nearby. Kat and I had bopped in with Essie a couple of years ago after the Fourth of July fireworks. It had good food and would let me get out of my damp coat for a bit, because I wasn’t ready to go back home yet.
There were few cars in the lot. A good sign when you wanted to be alone. Inside, I found a table in a dark corner, placed my order, and then hunched over my beer. Trying to shake off the shivers was easier than shaking off my worries about the reason for our fight today. Why I was out in the rain in the first place.
I had about a quarter left in my glass when I heard a deep voice.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“I’m sorry. Thank you, but—”
“I’m not interested in dancing. It’s just a drink.”
I started to ask what the heck he was talking about when the chair next to me was pulled out. A broad-shouldered woman with buzzed blonde hair and wearing a plaid button-up shirt tucked into jeans sat down.
“My name is Susie.”
Tears choked my throat. Any verbal response I might have had was lost behind a mumble of gasps. I was reduced to having no more manners than my four-year-old, reaching grabby-hands out to the woman sitting next to me. She didn’t seem to mind, accepting my embrace with open arms.
“I would ask how you’ve been, honey, but it’s obvious you’re doing great.” She rubbed her hand across my back until I settled down.
Once I’d returned to my own seat, I used my napkin to make myself more presentable. “Susie…it’s so good to see you.”
“I was just about to ask what brings you out to our little spot on the East Coast, but that rock on your finger explains it.” Susie flagged down the waitress and held up two fingers. Her attention back on me, she leaned her arms on the table and narrowed her eyes. “The question is, who’s the lucky gal? Or maybe you gave up on true love and swung for the other team?”
I managed an honest smile. “Oh, it’s true love. The one and only.”
Susie whistled long and low. “You found her again. Did you have to tie her down and beg her to marry you?”
My grin widened. “Well, there has been some rope and quite a lot of begging through the years, but it wasn’t in regards to the proposal. That came very willingly.”
She grasped my hand and squeezed it. “I’m so happy for you, Jenna. You deserve it.”
The waitress returned with two full glasses of beer and a basket with my order. I gestured to Susie to help herself to the fries and half of the burger after I cut it.
“So…” she munched on two fries at once, “you’ve found wedded bliss out here in the mecca for lesbian lovers. Yet, you are a hot mess, once again hiding from…something.”
I dipped my head and took a bite of half of the sandwich.
“You can delay all you want, honey, but you’ll spill.” She sat back and sipped her beer, holding another fry between her fingers like a cigarette.
I literally chewed over my thoughts until all that was left was a small pile of fries and a somewhat pathetic way to unload. My first lover just sat there and kept me company, raising her hand to beckon a waitress when our well had run dry again. I was halfway through my third beer before I sat back and burped softly, excusing myself.
“You’ll feel even better once you get it off your chest,” Susie said matter-of-factly. “Honesty is the best medicine. Remember how twisted up inside you were when I met you?”
I could remember. I’d never forget the night we’d met. It had been my first night in a gay bar…and in a gay relationship.
“I’d help you unwind,” she continued, “but I think your wife would hunt me down and skin me alive.”
That made me grin. Yes, I could see Kat at least saying she’d do something like that. When I’d first met her, she’d been a little mousy. Giving into Danny’s request to meet after their breakup. Not as outgoing when we were together in public. She reminded me a lot of what I’d been like growing up. But we’d both become more assertive over the years. And she’d become very protective since she’d had Essie. Especially of me. Part of protecting her baby bird, maybe…making sure her second mommy didn’t stray too far from the nest, either.
Which is what had me so confused about our fight earlier. I was just protecting her. No different than what she would do for me.
“Okay. As much as I’ve always loved watching your facial expressions, tonight is the exception. Jenna, you need to start talking, and now. I can’t help if I don’t know what the problem is.”
I blinked at Susie. I didn’t remember asking her for help. But I guess I had wished I’d had someone to vent to, and here she was. I took another sip of liquid courage and leaned forward, wrapping both hands around the glass.
“Years after you and I met, I worked with a woman who was a lesbian. We dated for quite a while. I thought it would be the forever I couldn’t have with izmit sınırsız escort Kat. But she eventually moved on, too. Before she left, I was partnered with another woman at work. At the time, I didn’t realize she swung our way. Turns out, she was the sister of a good friend…he managed and bartended at the women’s club my girlfriend and I frequented.”
I swallowed the last of my beer and nodded when Susie gestured if I wanted another.
“This new coworker became a good friend of mine, as well. A confidant. Especially after I learned she liked girls. She was the one who was there for me when my girlfriend broke it off. Knew that I needed my little sis to lift my spirits. That decision opened my eyes to the fact that my sister was also a lesbian. I had two new support systems in my life.”
Susie slid a fresh glass toward me, her expression not revealing much of anything except that she was patiently waiting for me to continue.
I took a couple sips and ate a cold fry. “It took me a long time to figure out that Lauren, this coworker, had a thing for me. But as good as friends as we were, I didn’t like her as anything more. I dated a couple of other women. Realized I was comparing everyone to Kat. I knew that wasn’t fair to any of them, so I decided to take a break from dating entirely.”
Susie nodded but still said nothing.
“Lauren and I…we just seemed copacetic as friends for about a year. Until Kat walked into the club. It was heaven for me but apparently hell for Lauren. It wasn’t until years later that I realized Lauren had been trying to keep me away from Kat. That she was jealous of her. That the more I fell in love with Kat, the more Lauren fell in love with me.”
My breaths shuddered now. Susie clasped my hand and squeezed it. I pushed on, trying to keep my tears at bay.
“Almost five years ago now, Lauren followed us out here. Kat and I were already married. She was pregnant from in vitro, almost six months. We’d just left the baby shower when Lauren showed up in the parking lot. With a gun.”
Susie gasped, clutching my hand closer when I shuddered. I don’t know if she had done it consciously or not. Regardless, I was glad for her compassionate touch.
I took a few deep breaths and managed to keep my voice mostly steady when I continued. “We got into an argument. Kat tried to intervene. Lauren turned and fired. The bullet got Kat in the side around her armpit. She and the baby were fine, but it gave us quite a scare. Lauren went to jail as a result.”
Was it suddenly hot in here? I tugged at the collar of my short-sleeved shirt. Kept my eyes down…my voice lower. “That hadn’t been the first time Lauren had been in contact since we left Illinois.”
“Hmm. Let me guess. You never told Kat, but somehow, she found out. And here you are, tending to your wounds in a bar in the rain.”
I shook my head with a soft snort. “That’s how I found Kat again, you know? She wandered into the club to get out of the rain. Her fiancé had broken up with her…over the phone. She always says she had felt like a drowned rat that day. I keep reminding her that she was a ray of sunshine to me. The most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and ever will. Even more than any children we have.”
“She means the world to you. That’s very clear, Jenna.” Susie tipped my chin up. “So why didn’t you tell her Lauren had been contacting you?”
My lower lip trembled. A tear leaked out. “I was trying to protect her.”
Susie nodded and dropped her hand from my chin.
“I never knew Lauren would turn violent. They had just been Emails at first. Sporadic, usually rambling and sometimes job-related. Though we were still employed by the same company, we no longer worked on projects together since I’d moved away. But when the messages hedged on being more intimate, I told her to stop. Reminded her that I didn’t see her that way. I eventually set a filter so that they’d all just get deleted automatically. A few weeks later, I received a message from a similar address, letting me know she’d had to change her Email due to someone hacking into her account. She wanted to make sure I had her new one.”
I was crying silently now, my voice croaking at times.
“Some time after I blocked her new address, I got a text on my phone. I hadn’t recognized the number, so I politely answered that they had the wrong person. The responding text said it was Lauren…asked how I was doing. I ignored her texts for four days. Every morning, she wanted to know how I’d slept…wished me a good day. And at night, she hoped my day went well and that I would sleep tight. I ended up blocking her number. I contacted her brother. He said he would talk to her and she wouldn’t be bothering me again.”
I finished my beer, tasting the salt from my tears on my lips. “It was months later that she just showed up at the restaurant. She was sitting in her car when I came out to load mine up with gifts from the shower. Scared the shit out of me when she called my name. Saw she was holding a gun, although it was pointed at the ground by her side. She seemed so….calm.”
My ex-girlfriend just patted my hands. Reminding me I was here, not back in that parking lot. And I wasn’t alone.