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She never said it because maybe she thought somehow Dorothy would just know. But it’s been a year and they haven’t spoken, and she gets the feeling that Dorothy didn’t know at all. How could she not know? She practically screamed it every time they were together. It was obvious to anybody who knew her; it should have been the most obvious to Dorothy. Dorothy knew her the best. She never let anybody get as close to her as Dorothy got.

If she were honest with herself, she’d realize that, of course, Dorothy didn’t know because she didn’t let her know. She kept a big part of herself hidden from everyone and convinced herself that it was only a small part; just a small part of herself that no one had to know because it was insignificant anyway. But if she were honest with herself, she’d realize that it was a really significant part. It was the part of her that was scared. The part of her that wasn’t in control and the part of her that needed to take control. But that part of her was young and didn’t feel like she could take control, so she gave it away to another part—a bigger, scarier part. That part, it was what she needed when she was at her weakest, but it was what she didn’t need right now. Right now, she needed that part to take a step back so that the most important people in her life would know.

Juliet didn’t know either. Realizing that her daughter had no idea is why she decided something had to be done. There were two important people in her life. Three. Lily. They didn’t know. It was her fault because when she thought she was telling them by buying them expensive gifts and paying for vacations and throwing them extravagant parties, all they saw was an out-of-control, spendthrift who had lost touch with reality. They saw a crazy person and she was just trying to give them everything they could ever want so they didn’t have to like she felt—like there was no one she could depend on.

Whenever they were together, she wished Dorothy could just know—could just realize that even though she pretended to be in control she was not, and she needed her to take control. The problem was Dorothy didn’t believe she could be in control of her own life, let alone hers. But she needed that. Maybe Dorothy just wasn’t ready. Maybe she’s ready now. Not ready to be her babysitter, but ready to be that person she could depend on to drag her back down to reality—to give her a good slap in the face when she’s losing her grip. She just wanted to have someone she could trust to take over every once in a while. She wanted her someone.

‘Hi, baby,’ her text read. She hadn’t sent it yet; she thought maybe it was too casual for the first text in a year. She deleted it.

‘Hey,’ she tried again. No, that wouldn’t work either. If Dorothy even replied to that, it would be a simple ‘hey’ back and then she’d have to try to muddle her way through small talk. She didn’t want small talk. She wanted real talk. This time had to be different. She needed to be…what’s the word? Vulnerable.

She took a deep breath and stretched her neck and shoulders and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her thighs. Be open, be honest, she thought.

‘I know it’s been a while but can we talk some time? Maybe meet up at one of those anti-establishment coffee houses?’ It was personal and kind of casual, but still sincere. She read it over before hitting the send button. And then she waited.

Juliet’s not talking to her right now. Apparently showing up to her school in a sexy dress is a high crime. It was the loneliest three hours waiting for Dorothy to text her back and watching her daughter come home only to lock herself in her bedroom without so much as a nod in her direction.

Another hour went by and she checked her phone again. She had a few junk emails and texts from friends who wanted to go out for a drink. She didn’t really consider them friends though, more like associates. But if she didn’t respond by 9pm, she might consider going, just to get her mind off the woman. She placed the phone back on the chair that sat next to her tub and relaxed back into the hot water and bubbles. Almost the second she closed her eyes, her phone chimed and she sat up so fast, she may have pulled a muscle. Water dripped on the floor as she held her phone away from the tub to avoid dropping it in. There it was: the message she’d been waiting for. She had to laugh because at the moment, she had no idea why Juliet wasn’t talking to her and no idea why Dorothy was. But she was grateful anyway.

‘Yeah, I think we should talk,’ the message read.

‘Great. When can you meet me? Maybe tomorrow? I can meet you somewhere.’

She stared at the phone and kept tapping the screen so it wouldn’t shut off. It was a few minutes before the next message came in.

‘Come over tomorrow. Do you still have the address?”

‘Yeah, I got it. I’ll be there after I get Juliet to school.’

‘Fine. See you tomorrow.’

Fine. That’s all. She was in no position to complain; the woman was at least speaking to her. Despite the coldness of their exchange, Ramona smiled. She couldn’t wait for tomorrow and wished the evening would go by quicker. She only had a few hours to get her thoughts together and figure out how to approach this because in the morning, she’d have to worry about putting together the perfect outfit.

Stepping out onto the bathmat, she grabbed a towel from the bar and dried her wet skin. She could hear Juliet in the kitchen heating up food. She guessed the girl had waited until she was in the tub to come out into the common areas of the apartment. By the time she moisturized and slipped into a pair of pajamas, the microwave had stopped and the distinct sound of the teenager’s door slamming let her know that she had re-sequestered herself in the room.

Deciding to call it an early night, Ramona replied to the texts from her associates, fabricating illness to get out of going out for drinks. She could have just told them she didn’t go out on school nights, which was true, but somehow didn’t seem believable for someone like her.

Lying in bed, she forced her mind to relax by playing out possible scenarios for the next day. Preparedness was key because she knew Dorothy would ask her difficult questions and expected answers. She couldn’t disappoint. Disappointment was what everyone expected from her and she did not want to make that her legacy. She could do better and would. One day, her little makeshift family would be proud of her. Maybe one she’d be proud of herself, too.

The next morning, when the door swung open, Ramona wanted nothing more than to rush to hug her baby and beg for forgiveness, but she knew that wouldn’t be well-received. She didn’t even really know what to make of Dorothy because the woman carried with her the same caution, but also a brand-new hardness. It was intimidating. But that was always how she was: intimidating. Every felt it even though Dorothy always denied it. She never understood why people were intimidated by her. Ramona knew why. She didn’t feel it, herself, but she could see why other people felt it. And she kind of loved that about Dorothy. But one year after they got busted, she could see it in Dorothy’s eyes that she’d finally embraced her inner hard-ass.

“Hi,” she said reverently. “I bought a box of these Danishes. I figured I could bring the coffee shop to you,” she held up the box pastries for Dorothy to see. Making herself familiar with the entryway of the house again, a sadness passed over Ramona as she felt the house had more life than it did a year ago. It felt more lived in and more filled with love. It made her sad that she and Juliet hadn’t been a part of that.

Dorothy tried her best to remain passive. “That was sweet of you. Do you want a cup of coffee?” She led Ramona into the kitchen and didn’t offer a hug or any other warm greeting.

“Yeah, sure.”

The kitchen was just as she remembered—light, open, clean. But it was a little more new back then and now, it was more homey. Lily’s favorite cereal sat on top of the counter; the box was still open and she wondered how long ago the girl left for school. Dorothy swept through the room, picking up anything out of place and hiding it neatly away, the box of Frosted Flakes included.

She smiled because she was the one who’d introduced the kid to a bowl of sugary Frosted Flakes with ice-cold milk one Sunday morning. She’d had a girls’ night with Lily and Juliet while Dorothy had been out on a job. The girls had barely slept and woke her up at 6:30 in the morning to watch cartoons. As they laid back on the sofa, the front door quietly opened revealing an exhausted Dorothy, who acknowledged her quickly with a haunted smile and went straight back to the bathroom to shower. She gave her a few minutes to herself but ultimately left the little ones on the couch in favor of checking on her friend. When she’d gotten to her bedroom, the freshly showered Dorothy laid on top of the covers in her underwear. She’d laid next to her and cuddled the smaller woman. Nothing really bad had happened the night before, Dorothy reassured her, but she’d felt dirty. She’d felt like she couldn’t get clean enough.

That was one of the times Ramona wished she would have just known. Because she hadn’t known how to say it, but she’d felt it and she’d thought maybe if Dorothy would turn around right then and look her in the eyes, she would have known.

Her host placed a mug of black coffee in front of her, breaking her out of her memories. “Do you still drink it black with loads of sugar?” Dorothy asked?

She smiled smartly, “I cut back on the sugar. Only six teaspoons now. Please.”

“That’s disgusting,” Dorothy proceeded to measure out six teaspoons of sugar. “Aside from the fact that it has no cream or milk or anything to soften the taste, you load it with sugary calories.”

“Listen baby, this is the only indulgent thing I allow myself. How else do you think I maintain this killer body?” She felt that the term of endearment may have been too much, too soon. But Dorothy had no objection so far. In fact, she caught the hint of a smile on her face.

“All this time I thought maybe you’d sold your soul for abs.”

“Nah. Even my dark soul wouldn’t be enough to pay for these babies. These come from hard work and hard sacrifice.”

She took a sip of her coffee, and then another. It was hard to be sure what to say next because almost everything she wanted to say didn’t seem good enough. Maybe that’s what Dorothy needed to hear from her, though. Maybe she needed to hear that she was unsure, and didn’t have it together and that she acknowledged that she’s not always right. Vulnerable. Sincere. That’s what she was trying to show now, right? That side of her that no one else gets to see. Dorothy could see it; she’s special enough to give her that.

Small footsteps on the hard floor took her by surprise and she put her coffee down.

“Aunt Ramona?” the little girl whispered. Her voice sounded a bit hoarse.

“Oh my goodness! What are you doing here?!” she exclaimed. She came off the barstool to kneel down and hug the little girl tightly. “How are you, angel? Why aren’t you in school?”

“I’m sick,” Lily said. She did look a bit tired. And the hoarseness in her voice was more obvious now.

“Oh no, well then what are you doing out of bed?”

“I wanted to see who Mommy was talking to.”

“Sweetie, how do you feel?” Dorothy came around the kitchen island. She felt the girl’s face and neck to gauge her temperature. “I think it’s time for another dose of medicine.”

“I don’t want to,” Lily pouted. “It makes me sleepy and I want to stay with Aunt Ramona.”

Looking up at Dorothy with questioning eyes, Ramona pleaded, “Can I?” It was a vague question, but Dorothy understood and nodded.

“Angel,” Ramona addressed Lily, “I would love nothing more than to spend the day with you, but I really, really want you to feel better. Your medicine will help you.”

“Are you going to come back?” the girl asked.

“If your Mommy says it’s okay, I’ll come back this weekend and bring Juliet with me and we can have a slumber party!”

“Really?” she asked, bright-eyed.

“Yes, really. Now, we need medicine. Where do I find it?”

Lily broke away from Ramona to grab her hand and lead her up the stairs and into the bathroom next to her bedroom. Dorothy followed silently.

“Mommy keeps it in there. I can’t reach it,” she pointed to the mirrored cabinet.

“Okay, let’s see.” The instructions on the bottle were pretty easy: two teaspoons every eight hours. “I’m assuming her last dose was eight hours ago?” she turned to question Dorothy, who nodded in agreement. “Got it.” She measured the medicine using the small plastic cap and handed it to Lily. “I know you can take this to the head like a champ, right?”

“I can do it,” the kid agreed reluctantly. She did take it to the head. In a way, Ramona was proud. She was a brave kid. She reminded her a lot of Dorothy at the moment.

“Cool. Now, I want you to get back in the bed and get lots of rest, okay? The only way you’re going to feel better is to take your medicine, eat healthy food and rest.”

“Can you come tuck me in like you used to?”

“Absolutely. Let’s go.”

Once Lily was properly wrapped up in her flower blankets like a burrito and Dorothy gave her a kiss and turned out the light, the two headed back down the stairs. She could feel Dorothy’s calculating eyes on her as she trailed behind. She wondered what the other woman was thinking. Did she overstep with Lily?

They’d just barely gotten to the bottom of the staircase when Dorothy finally spoke up. “Why did you want to see me?”

“Because,” she took a seat at the bottom step and looked up, “I miss you. A lot. And I wanted to talk about what happened. Why haven’t we spoken to each other?”

“Honestly, I got tired of being the one always being the one to reach out to you. Everything was always one-sided, Ramona. It was always me chasing after you and you never even looking back to see me trying to reach you. I got tired of it.” She laughed and it was heart-breaking. “I was so stupid…”

“You were never stupid. You’re the smartest person I know.”

“Then how did I manage to fall in love with the most untouchable woman in the world?” Dorothy looked at her with tears in her eyes. She was crying but there was almost no emotion behind it. If she were honest, it was scary. Then she realized what she’d just heard.

“You’re in love with me?” she asked.

Was,” Dorothy said quickly. “I was in love with you. I know better now.”

“What do you know now?” she stood up and moved closer. Taking a smaller hand in hers, she mentally prepared herself for battle. “You know what I know? You’re scared of me. Or maybe you’re scared to feel for me what you feel because I let you down before. I know I fucked up and I did some shitty things. The worst thing I did was let you down. I should have been there to catch you but I was so far up in the clouds.”

“You were completely out of control. You couldn’t even see everything around you crumbling.”

“Yeah, I know. But honestly, you couldn’t see me either. I was always the one in control and I needed you to take over and put me back in my place.”

Pushing her away, Dorothy finally showed some sign of life. “So it’s my fault? I should have been the one to control you?!”

“I’m not saying that, I’m just saying that I know sometimes I get crazy but I needed you to help me and you didn’t know how. You didn’t know that I practically begging you to smack me out of the clouds!”

Approaching Ramona dangerously close, Dorothy lowered her voice to avoid worrying Lily. “You know damn well you would have never given up control. You have a sick need to always be the one calling the shots and screw anyone who tried to be in charge of your show. How the hell was I supposed to smack you out of the clouds?”

“You could have done it. No one else could but I would have let you.”

“I was going through my own issues, Ramona! I already have one child to raise and I couldn’t babysit you, too. Maybe if you would have thought about someone else besides yourself for a change you would have known how much you were pushing everyone away.”

She was right. Of course, she was right. Ramona didn’t come here to excuse her behavior; she’d just wanted to explain it and hope Dorothy would understand. Somehow, she was fucking up again. “I know,” she gave in. “I’m not…I don’t want to make excuses. I just needed you to know.”

“To know what, Ramona?”

Without her permission, tears ran down her cheeks and spilled past the corners of her lips. She really needed a hug right now but doubted Dorothy would let her. She felt her body quiver. Years of buried emotions were threatening to crush her right now.

She didn’t need to look up to know that Dorothy was moving into her personal space. When she felt arms wrap around her waist and soft breath on her neck, she grabbed on tightly and made an effort to pull the woman inside her soul. The dam broke and she was full-on crying right now.

“What do you need me to know?” Dorothy asked again.

“I’m an idiot,” she laughed through her tears and felt Dorothy laughing, too. “Juliet hates me because I’m selfish. I wore a tight dress to pick her up from school and now she thinks all I care about is myself.”

“Well, duh. What teenager wants her mother showing up to school looking like a hot piece of ass?”

“See! That’s what I need. I need you to tell me the truth and put me in my place and shit.”

“You need to learn how to put yourself in your place. And how to have an honest conversation.”

“You hate me, too.”

“If I hated you, why would we be in this position right now?”

“You feel bad for me.”

“I don’t, not at all. You made your choices and that’s why you’re in the place you’re in. I don’t feel bad. But I don’t hate you.”

Now would be the time to say it. Now would be the perfect time to just cash out while she’s ahead but the words sat in her throat. Maybe she could use different words. “When did you know?”

Dorothy looked up at her. The angle was awkward. “Know what?”

“That you loved me.”

“Uh,” she breathed, “Maybe when we first met. Up on the roof. After that, I kept feeling things for you but I wouldn’t let myself admit it. When I had Lily, I think that’s the first time I admitted it to myself. I was really sad; I wanted you there more than anyone else.”

“I wish I was there.” She shifted to bring her hand to Dorothy’s face and trace her cheek and lips. “Why didn’t you call me then?”

“I knew you would ask me to move in with you,” she laughed. “I couldn’t do that when I had feelings for you and didn’t feel that way about me.”

“I always wanted you to know how I felt but you didn’t know.”

“I’m not a mind reader, Ramona. How could I have known?”

“I showed it. I know to everyone else it just looked like me throwing my money around but it wasn’t just that. I wanted you and Juliet and Lily to have everything. I wanted to give that to you.”

“You could have told me, you know.”

Shaking her head, “I didn’t know how. I was scared to lose you. I didn’t think you would want me, so I just settled for being your friend. I didn’t even deserve to be that for all the shitty things I said and did.”

“Did you fuck Dawn?”

“What? No…” her face contorted in shock. Where was that coming from? She hadn’t thought about that hot mess for a long time.

Dorothy insisted, though. “Did you? You can tell me if you did…”

“Baby, no. I never fucked Dawn.”

“Why was she so important to you? She was more important to you than me.”

“You’re wrong. Besides Juliet, no one was ever more important to me than you.”

“So, why?”

She needed to get a little space to have this conversation and disentangled from Dorothy. Re-claiming her seat on the bottom step, she explained. “I was mad at you and I used Dawn. I know it was childish, but that’s what happened. You had started getting closer to that guy and it was frustrating because it seemed like you didn’t see what was right in front of you. Like you were looking for someone to provide for you and to be stable or whatever and I could have done that. I mean, maybe I wouldn’t have been perfect, but I would have done that for you. But I was jealous. And I knew you hated Dawn and didn’t want her involved so I brought her in anyway to get back at you.”

Dorothy was sporting that disappointed look where she purses her lips and holds her head low. She didn’t need to look at the woman to know exactly what she was doing. She felt it.

“And then, on like the worst day of my life, I needed you and you were with her…”

“I’m so sorry for that. I can’t ever make it up to you but I can do better.”

“If you were me, would you believe that?” she challenged. That was a tough question to answer. If she were honest, she’d say no and that would probably blow her last shot. If she tried to overstate her confidence in herself, she’d lose credibility and blow her last shot.

Ramona had no other cards to play but the truth. “I would have no reason to trust me based on my actions. But I would know that I’m sincere when I say I know what I did wrong and I won’t make those mistakes again because I know exactly how much they cost me the last time. And I would love me enough to give me another chance to earn my trust.”

“When did you know?” Dorothy asked.

Smiling, she remembered that first night. Dorothy—Destiny—was so open and innocent. She fit inside her fur perfectly and molded to her body. She knew then that this was someone special, someone precious to her and she wanted to protect her and spoil her and love her. She hadn’t loved her immediately, but she’d known that she wanted to. “I think I knew for sure that first time we danced together. You know, in the private room. I was jealous how that guy was looking at you, fantasizing about you. And I wanted to make sure he knew that you weren’t his.”

“That’s not very romantic.”

“I know, but it’s true, baby. It’s our story. It may not be some Hallmark romance, but it’s ours. And I love it.”

“So…” Dorothy fiddled with her hands and struggled to look her in the eyes and she knew what was coming next. “Do you still love me?”

Her body tingled as she gently pulled Dorothy close to her. The shorter woman placed her hands on Ramona’s shoulders to avoid falling on her. “Yeah, I do. Do you?”

Dorothy nodded her head.

“So… Can we do this? We can go as slow as you want.”

“I don’t want to go slow,” she answered. She was sure and confident. That made Ramona proud. “But I want to do better and be better. We both have kids. I want us to be better examples for them. And I want…”

Okay, they could discuss this all later. Right now, they needed to make up for lost time and lost kisses. Ramona yanked her down, forcing Dorothy to straddle her lap. She placed her hands just under the white sweater and gently scratched her nails against the sensitive skin, causing Dorothy to arch her body closer. She knew that would happen.

“You think you know me so well, huh?” Dorothy searched her face looking the familiar smugness. But she didn’t feel smug because she knew how to make her body react; she felt smug because she knew no one else had the same effect. Dorothy had told her once, a long time ago, after they’d done a private dance at the club. She’d had a couple of drinks after and had told her that no one she ever slept with or dated did things to make her react like that.

“I know this…” Ramona did the move again, but this time, she nipped her teeth at the other woman’s neck, just above her collar bone. The reaction was something between a gasp and a moan. She didn’t think she could feel any more proud of herself right now.

Finding that innate power, Dorothy grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her head back. She leaned in to whisper in Ramona’s ear, “You better wipe that smug look off your face before I make you regret it.” She emphasized her purely sexual intent by circling the tip of her tongue around the opening of Ramona’s ear. She felt her still, formed a smug grin of her own. “Do I excite you when I’m like this? I guess I know a little something, myself, huh?”

“I would proudly be your bitch, baby.”

“That’s good to know. Now, it’s been a year since I’ve seen you and even longer since I’ve wanted to kiss you. Can we skip the teasing and get to it?”

“It’s your show, baby.” She kissed her fiercely. They had waited way too long for romance. This had to be all about passion and release. She placed her hands under Dorothy’s thighs and used her HIIT training to engage her thighs and butt to lift herself from the low position with added weight. Mentally, she made a note to add this to her workout routine.

When they got to the couch, Dorothy clung to her like a koala bear as she lowered them down and settled one thigh in between the other woman’s. The kiss was so good, but even better was how Dorothy tangled one hand in her hair to keep her close and the other hand under the waistband of her jeans, pushing against well-toned, sensitive flesh to get more friction. She tried to slow down to avoid the embarrassment of climax by dry-humping, but Dorothy seemed to want exactly that; she lifted her lower body, making it impossible not to moan into her mouth like a teenage boy. Encouraged and no longer embarrassed, Ramona ground down harder and moved rhythmically. Dorothy watched, entranced, and their eyes found each other. After a few long moments her body shuddered, and she buried her face in the shoulder underneath her. The other woman held her closely and nuzzled against her cheek. For the first time in a long time, Ramona was speechless.

“I bet you Dawn couldn’t do that.” The proclamation made her burst out in her signature boisterous laughter.

“Baby, are you ever going to let that go?”

“Maybe. One day.”

“She definitely couldn’t do that. She’s too coked out to pull off that kind of concentration. Besides, I don’t want to sofa-surf anybody but you.”

“You sure? Once you say you’re sure, this is it.”

“I’m sure. And just so you know, I’m sorry.” She kissed Dorothy softly to convey her sincerest apology. “I really am going to do better. I can’t afford to lose you again.”

“Apology accepted. I’m sorry, too, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For not knowing.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Maybe, but still.” She shifted to sit up on the sofa and Ramona remained lying down, resting her head in her lap. “I want to see Juliet.”

“Can we come by this weekend and do a sleepover, like I promised Lily?”

“Can you go pick her up and come back tonight? Maybe stay the rest of the week?” she pouted, hoping to get a yes. She didn’t really need to do much work to get Ramona to do anything she wanted.

“What about school?”

“It’s a special occasion, don’t you think? And I’m sure she would love to get a break from school after the shame of her sexy mama coming to pick her up.”

“Listen, I could have shown up looking a lot worse. Maybe next time, I’ll put on one of my old costumes. That will teach her that it could always be worse. Or I could show up in a house coat and rollers looking like my grandmother.”

Dorothy’s laugh echoed through her since they were so close. She couldn’t get enough of this feeling: having the other woman’s hands running soothing circles on her stomach; feeling entitled the rest her head near her most intimate place.

“If you do that to my poor baby, there will be hell to pay.”

“Well, she’s lucky you’re on her side, because I would do it in a heartbeat.” It didn’t take long to make her decision about bringing Juliet back tonight. “Are you sure you want us to stay the week?”

The question kind of had a double meaning. When she looked up at Dorothy, she knew double meaning was clear. Dorothy replied, “Yeah,” and kissed her.

“Okay.” The range of emotions she’d experienced today was starting to take its toll. And Dorothy had relaxed her so thoroughly, she turned over in her lap, her face almost buried in that soft, white sweater. She closed her eyes for a long minute, just to rest them.

“Sweetie,” she heard the faint whisper. It felt far away. She felt like she was drifting off. “Ramona,” she heard her name.

“Hmm?”

“You can’t sleep too long. You have to get back to pick up Jules from school.”

“I know, baby.”

“Okay.” Dorothy’s hands kept massaging her head. She knew she’d wake her up on time. She knew Juliet would be excited when she told her where they were going to spend the rest of their week. She didn’t know if her daughter was ready to forgive her and speak to her again, but she knew they would be okay. They’d be okay because they’d have the rest of their family back. That much, she knew.