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what am I doing here, if you're not with me?

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It turns out, having a home and a family that undoubtedly loves her and wants her around is just as wonderful as Judy always dreamed. She doesn't feel the need to have a stranglehold on it, doesn't have to fight to keep it, can just be- can let it breathe and grow and thrive. 

 

Life can be so much better than she ever imagined. 

 

*

 

The week after Christopher's wedding, Jen comes with Judy on her first monthly trip to San Francisco, and they have a fun weekend all planned out. (The boys had begged to come too, Jen told them "some other time", and meant it- Judy is already planning that trip in her head as well.) She feels giddy as they board the flight, no nerves this time with Jen by her side, and every new experience she gets to share with her is a thrill. Jen laughs at her a bit as they buckle themselves into their seats. 

 

"Jude, you look like a kid who is about to go to Disney World for the first time," she says, equal parts teasing and loving. 

 

"Well, I've never been to Disney World, but I think this is even better. Other than it being 6:00 in the morning."

 

Jen lifts up the armrest between them, grabs Judy's hand and laces their fingers together. "I'd have to agree. Plus Disney World is actually fucking terrible."

 

Judy rolls her eyes, "It's the happiest place on Earth, Jen."

 

"Nah," Jen shakes her head, "that's right here."

 

"An airplane?" Judy looks around, but Jen keeps her eyes on Judy. She gives her hand a squeeze.

 

"Anywhere with you." She's smiling, happy, and it still takes Judy's breath away to see her this way.

 

"Wow, what a line," Judy grins. "You hoping to get lucky? Join the mile high club?"

 

Jen scrunches her nose in disgust, "Gross, no. But as soon as we get to our hotel? Absolutely."

 

Judy laughs, heart full, and they settle in for take-off. 

 

Unfortunately, after they land, get their luggage, rent a car, and check into their hotel, Judy has to head to the office, so their fun can't begin quite yet. 

 

"I'm sorry," Judy says as she hugs Jen on her way out the door.

 

"What are you apologizing for? I knew you'd have to work all day. And we have the rest of the weekend. Or we can cancel all our plans and spend three days in that bed, up to you," she buries her head in Judy's neck, lips finding her skin.  

 

Judy tightens her arms around Jen and smiles. "Tempting, but we've already paid for our tours and I'm pretty sure they're non-refundable."

 

"Psssshhhhh," is Jen's reply, and it comes out like a raspberry against Judy's skin, making her giggle. 

 

Judy pulls back, "So you'll be okay while I'm working?"

 

"Yes, I'm a big girl! I'll relax some, the weather is nice, maybe walk to the coffee shop we passed, do some work, and meet you at the office when you're done. Just call me."

 

Judy grins, "Okay. We should be done around 4. I can't wait for you to meet everyone."

 

"Can't wait to show me off?" Jen teases. 

 

She hit the nail on the head, and it makes Judy happy just thinking about it. "Exactly."

 

Judy feels excited as she walks into the office, she's missed it, and everyone she passes greets her warmly. Margo meets her with a big hug, and then it's a full day of discussing new programming ideas and planning out Judy's and Greg's next trips. 

 

After they wrap up, Judy calls Jen, and she is at the office within 15 minutes. It's a flurry of activity as Judy takes Jen around, making introductions, and relishing each time she gets to say "my girlfriend". Margo's husband, Dan, and Greg's wife, Katy get there, too- the six of them are going to dinner, then making use of the company's San Francisco Giants season tickets. Judy knows nothing about baseball, but had been so pleasantly surprised when Margo offered to take them to the game- it made her feel so special.

 

They all walk a few blocks to take the train to a Chinese restaurant Greg always raves about. Judy gets Pad thai with tofu and Jen orders the beef fried rice (Judy smiles when she says it's even better than Mr. Chow's). Judy really enjoys getting to know and chat with Katy, who's a social worker, but can't help stealing glances at Jen every so often as she tells the others about her work and the boys, answering every question they ask.

 

Judy is on cloud nine. Seeing someone she loves interact with other important people in her life, and make an effort, just because they love her, too- it's something she's never experienced before. 

 

When they get to the Giants ballpark and make it inside, Judy looks around in wonder. She's actually never been to a professional sporting event, and it's pretty amazing, the hustle and bustle, all of the people clearly excited to be there, and the place is beautiful. It's right on the water, there are all kinds of boats parked outside, and a ferry dropping off hordes of fans, all clad in Giants orange and black.

 

"I've always wanted to come to this ballpark," Jen tells her as they walk to their seats, hand in hand.

 

Judy turns to look at her, surprised. "Really? I didn't know you cared about baseball."

 

Jen nods, "It was a big deal with my family, growing up in Brooklyn. My grandfather was a diehard Mets fan, and we went to games all the time. He also took me to Fenway Park in Boston before he died. Ted and I went to Red Sox games when we were in college, too. I obviously don't really follow it much anymore but always thought different ballparks were cool, and this one is so unique."

 

Judy smiles, thinking how amazing it is to know someone so well, yet still feel like you have much to learn about them. "I'm so glad I get to share this with you."

 

Jen grins at her, "We'll see if you still feel that way when I get a few beers in me and start heckling players." 

 

Judy laughs, thinking she's joking- but later on realizes she's dead serious. Jen ends up sitting next to Greg, who is a huge Giants fan, and he brings out the old baseball fan in Jen. The Giants are playing the Yankees, who Greg hates, and apparently being a Mets fan means Jen does, too. (Judy thinks. She's trying hard to keep up.) There's a lot of talk of "steroids" and "bought championships", and when they start a drunken chorus of "hey, batter batter" (whatever that is), Judy shares an eyeroll with Katy; really, she loves seeing this side of Jen. Absolutely any side of her.

 

After the game is over (Judy's not sure who won, but the crowd around her as they exit seem happy so she's guessing the Giants), they all take the train back to the office to get their cars. Judy watches as Jen and Greg high-five, then Margo gives Jen a big hug, telling her how nice it was to meet her, and that she better see her again soon. Jen promises she will, and doesn't even seem perturbed at the hug from a near- stranger. Judy says her goodbyes and thank yous and "see you next month"s, and they get into the car to head back to the hotel.

 

As Judy's driving, Jen is rummaging through her purse for something. "I walked by a dispensary this afternoon, and got you a little surprise..." she pulls out a joint, holds it up with a smile. "The dispensary dude went into way too much detail about the "strain" and the "type of high" it would cause and I stopped paying attention but I bought it when he said it tasted like strawberry. I thought you'd like that."

 

"I very much would like that, thank you! I'm not enjoying that alone, though."

 

She looks over as Jen cracks her window, then flicks on a lighter, joint to her lips. "Duh."

 

They pass it back and forth and recount the night on the short drive (the joint does taste like strawberry, dispensary dude was right), and by the time they park are both laughing, not about anything, really; to Judy, it feels like happiness spilling out.

 

Judy barely gets the door to their room unlocked and pushed opened before Jen is turning her around and pushing her against it, tongue in her mouth, knee between her thighs, "You're so fucking hot baby," rasped against her lips. Judy's not sure if it's the weed or the privacy of being without the boys that brings out a more vocal side of Jen, but Judy loves it when she doesn't hold back. It's a very fun night.

 

*

 

The next morning, a tour bus is scheduled to pick them up at 11:00 and take them to three different wineries in Napa and Sonoma. They cuddle in bed awhile (Jen bemoaning the fact they have to get up at all, which has become typical) before going downstairs for breakfast, then are out on the curb of the hotel when their ride shows up. Judy is bouncing up and down with excitement, and Jen just smiles at her- Judy knows this isn't really her thing, being so tourist-y, but Judy didn't want either of them having to drive around to different wineries, and Jen didn't give any pushback. She's being a great sport. "Thank you," Judy says, before they climb up the stairs to board the bus. 

 

"I love seeing you happy," Jen shrugs, "plus I can't be mad about getting chauffeured around to drink."

 

"Welcome aboard the bus to booze-town!" their driver, a man looking to be in his 50s wearing a fedora, greets them. "I'm Clark. I'll be your designated driver for the day."

 

Judy likes him already. "Hi Clark! I'm Judy, and this is Jen." About half of the seats are taken, and they settle in near the front, Judy exchanging smiles and hellos with everyone who makes eye contact.

 

Jen is by the window and Judy gets as close to her as possible, both taking it all in as Clark provides commentary on everything they pass. Judy is particularly enthralled when he talks about the devastating earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1906; she's always amazed when something can be absolutely destroyed and then built back up again, seemingly even more beautiful than before. She squeezes Jen's hand at the thought. 

 

They stop and park at the Golden Gate Bridge as they cross it for a photo opp, Clark telling them they have 10 minutes. It's foggy, and she can't make the bridge out clearly, but Judy is in awe. Jen rolls her eyes when Judy asks to take her picture in front of it, but poses anyway, hair blowing in the wind; then Judy wraps an arm around her, smooshes their cheeks together and flips the camera for a selfie, trying to get the bridge in the background. Their hair is in each other's faces and Judy laughs as she snaps the pictures, not caring; they'll be priceless to her, regardless. She scrolls through them after they're back on the bus and on their way again, Jen leaning over to look, too. Judy can't help but smile, she was right, their hair is wild and the bridge isn't even visible, but she feels the happiness radiate from them anyway, can see it in her own laughter, in Jen's fond smile. 

 

"You're so cute," Jen says. "But I think I still have some of your hair in my mouth."

 

They laugh and look out the window, enjoying the view as they leave the city. The further they get, the more vineyards they start to see- what seems to be miles and miles of them. 

 

"Damn," Jen mutters, "think of all the wine to be made from these grapes!"

 

"Seriously," Judy agrees, then grins. "I don't see any oranges, though."

 

Jen bursts out laughing, "Karen would be so disappointed!"

 

"So disappointed."

 

Their first stop is a tiny, family operated winery. They're greeted by the owners, a married couple, who take them on a short walk through the small vineyard before leading them to tables near a bar area. There are glasses and a card at each seat- it's a list of the wines they'll taste. Judy picks it up to see three reds and three whites, with their names, what tastes to expect, and what foods they're best paired with. 

 

"Holy shit," she leans over to Jen, "Six glasses? I'm going to be drunk before we get to the second winery!"

 

Jen shakes her head and smiles at her, "They don't give you a full glass at tastings, Jude. It's maybe like three good sips of each."

 

"Oh, phew," Judy is relieved, she wants to be able to enjoy all of the wine and not embarrass herself. "Good thing you've been around the block before." She winks.

 

"Oh yeah. Around the block at some shitty Laguna wineries, nothing like this," Jen looks around, and Judy does the same- there's not a cloud in the sky, fog long behind them, and it's incredibly peaceful. "Thanks for bringing me."

 

"Of course. I'd love to make this a more regular thing, since I'll be coming to the city a lot," Judy loves looking into the future, seeing Jen there. "I want to bring the boys, don't you think taking them to a baseball game would be fun? We wouldn't bring them here, obviously..."

 

Jen nods, "They would love going to a game. We'll see how tomorrow is, but I think Henry would love seeing Alcatraz, too. And Charlie could drive us around to wineries, we wouldn't need Clark as our designated driver."

 

Judy sucks in a breath, mock aghast. "What?! You don't like Clark?"

 

"Ehhh, I could do without the constant commentary. And the hat."

 

"You don't like the fedora?!"

 

Jen laughs, "Of course you do like the fedora. I'll make Charlie wear one while he drives, okay?"

 

"Oh he will love that. Definitely won't object."

 

"Definitely not."

 

The wine is brought around then, and Judy listens intently as the owners talk about it, and the process of making it, while she savors every tiny sip. It's so good, tastes better than any store-bought wine she's ever had. She looks back at Jen to find her glass already empty, she's clearly not listening to the wine talk- she's got her eyes fixated on Judy, small smile on her lips. Judy feels butterflies in her chest and a huge grin break out on her face. She'll never get sick of that feeling. 

 

The second winery is bigger, and they get a tour of the wine cellar at this one- it's really cool, but also really cool, and Jen wraps her arm around Judy, brings her in close as they walk when she notices her shivering. Back outside, they sit at tables on a balcony overlooking the vineyard, where they're served their tastings of wine and a lunch of soup and salad. 

 

Judy takes a sip of a white wine after she finishes eating, it's crisp and delicious. "I think I like the whites better here, but the reds better at the first place. What do you think?"

 

Jen swirls her glass and gives it a sniff, then takes a sip, nods, like she's really pondering her answer. Then she smiles. "Honestly? They all taste the same to me," after Judy laughs, she continues, "I do love them all, though! Definitely better than what we buy at home."

 

"For sure. We should get some bottles to take home, maybe one for Lorna as a thank you for watching the boys? What kind is her favorite, do you know?"

 

Jen answers immediately, "Whichever has the highest alcohol content."

 

The last winery they visit, Bouchaine, is by far Judy's favorite. It's huge, Clark tells them it's 100 acres ("See, Charlie wouldn't have random tidbits of info like that," she teases Jen), and there's vineyards as far as the eye can see. They're led to an indoor area for their tasting, and these wines are definitely Judy's favorite. She's starting to feel a little tipsy by the end, and can tell by Jen's adorably pink cheeks as she listens to Judy ramble about the food she'd make to go with each wine that she is, too. Clark tells them they'll have about an hour to hang out and explore before heading back, so they decide to buy a bottle to drink. 

 

A woman comes over to take their order as they look at the wine list- Judy's feeling a white, but can't decide. They were all really good. While she's looking, she hears Jen jokingly ask the woman if they have orange wine, and glances up to see her get a look of disgust in return. "Oh God, no. We don't make that atrocity here." Jen doubles over in laughter. They go with the Riesling, and once it's uncorked, head outside to enjoy it. 

 

Judy pours each of them a glass from the bottle then sets the rest of it on a free table, holding out her hand for Jen to take it. She leads her to the vineyards, walking leisurely between the rows of grape-filled vines, basking in the buzz she's feeling from the wine, the sunshine, and the feel of Jen's hand in hers. "I love this place."

 

"It's really nice out here," Jen agrees. "You have a good time today, baby?"

 

Judy looks at her, surprised she even has to ask. "The best. What about you?"

 

Jen nods, "Oh, yeah," she takes a sip of her wine. "I've loved the wine and the scenery but... your happiness is what really does it for me. There's something about your smile that makes me want to smile, too. I've never felt anything like it." Judy knows it hasn't always been easy for Jen to be vulnerable like this, but ever since they've been together, it's like the floodgates were opened, and Jen doesn't try to fight it. Judy appreciates it, every single time, and loves her so much for it. For everything. 

 

There's no one around them, but in this moment Judy doesn't think she'd care if there were. She wraps her arms around Jen's neck, careful not to spill her drink, and leans up to kiss her. Jen tastes of wine and immediately sighs happily against her lips, pressing even closer to her. Judy gently slips her tongue into Jen's mouth, softly stroking hers, wants her to feel everything she is. When she pulls back, breathless, to look in Jen's eyes, she can see that she does. "I love you," Judy whispers. 

 

Jen leans her forehead down against Judy's.  "I love you." They stay like that for a few moments, all Judy can do is stare- Jen's ocean eyes, golden hair she's now running her fingers through, cheeks pink, a few freckles visible on her perfect nose. Then Judy smiles brightly, pulls back with an idea. 

 

"Let's take some pictures!" She grabs her phone out of her pocket, and they do, faces close as she snaps the selfies. "Wow," Judy breathes as she scrolls through and looks at them, stopping on one- vineyard in the background, blue sky, both their eyes sparkling and smiles as bright as the sun beaming down on them. It's probably her favorite picture, ever. 

 

"Yeah, wow. So fucking beautiful," Jen says before kissing Judy's forehead. "So beautiful."

 

"You're right," Judy replies as she immediately makes it her phone background, then looks up at Jen. "You are."

 

*

 

The next day, they take a ferry out to Alcatraz Island for a tour of the historical prison. Judy never went on trips as a kid, and when she lived in San Francisco everyone mentioned Alcatraz as a "must-see", so she feels the need to take advantage of the opportunity, and like everything else, it's so much more enjoyable with Jen. Even the ferry ride over is fun, as windy as it is, she loves being on the water, seeing the bridge in the distance. There's something freeing about it, which is kind of ironic, since they're going to see a prison. 

 

"Sheesh," She says to Jen as they get closer, "can you imagine trying to escape from that place?" 

 

"I don't think it'd be too bad. Sean Connery made it look pretty easy."

 

"Oh, he's hot. The hottest James Bond, I think. Did he escape from Alcatraz? I don't remember that one."

 

"No, different movie. The Rock. I have to disagree with you there."

 

"What? The Rock played James Bond?" Judy scrunches her nose, no way Jen could think he's hotter than Sean Connery.

 

Jen laughs, "No. That'd be some fucking terrible casting. The movie where he escapes Alcatraz is called The Rock."

 

"Oooohhhh," Judy nods, understanding. 

 

"But it's Daniel Craig. For sure."

 

"Okay," Judy concedes, "that's a valid opinion. I'm glad I don't have to break up with you."

 

"God, me too!" Jen pauses, "Okay, hottest Bond girl?"

 

They look at each other, then both blurt "Halle Berry," at the same time, smiling. 

 

Disembarking from the full ferry is a slow process, but Judy enjoys all of it, getting what glimpses of the prison she can. It seems really high up when they're at the bottom, and she realizes they'll have some walking to do. A very enthusiastic guide gives them a spiel about the island first thing, then they're on their own to explore. It is quite steep walking up to get to the prison entrance, and Jen groans when they see a golf cart drive by, full of elderly people. "Think we could hitch a ride on one of those?"

 

Judy grabs her hand, pulling her along. "It's good exercise! And I'll give you a massage later."

 

"That better be a promise."

 

"You know it is."

 

When they reach the top, they're given headsets attached to an audio device for a guided tour as they step inside. Judy is fascinated as they walk and she listens, but a heaviness sits on her chest a bit, too. Yes, there were definitely cold-blooded murderers who did time here, but she's sure there were also people who ended up here after making a mistake they truly regretted. It's not lost on her how lucky she is.

 

They walk in and out of cells, and then reach a small glass window looking out over the water. In the distance, you can see the San Francisco skyline. She pauses her audio tour and slips her headset off, when Jen sees her, she does the same. "Look," she points at the window. 

 

"Wow," Jen says, looking. "It's beautiful."

 

"It is," Judy nods. "Can you imagine, though? Being stuck here and seeing that every day, taunting you?" Her heart hurts at the thought. 

 

Jen senses it. "Hey," she squeezes her hand, and Judy looks at her, "it's okay." She smiles reassuringly. "We're fine."

 

Judy sighs, "I know."

 

"I think we would survive okay, anyway. On the inside. We'd get prison married, have a beautiful ceremony. Only the best for my girl." 

 

Judy laughs, tension leaving her body at Jen's joking tone. "Okay, not funny, but thank you. You're such a romantic."

 

"I'd probably have to shank some bitches, though. I know they'd all want you."

 

"'Shank some bitches'?" Judy brings her hand up to her heart. "My hero." 

 

"Anything for you, babe."

 

*

 

Judy stifles a yawn the next morning as she and Jen settle into their seats on the airplane to head home. 

 

"Tired?" Jen asks softly from beside her.

 

"Yeah. Someone kept me up half the night."

 

"Well, I'd apologize, but..." 

 

"Oh, absolutely not necessary." Judy looks over at Jen and grins. 

 

"I didn't think so. It was your fault anyway, getting me all worked up with that massage." Jen smirks as she rests her hand lightly on Judy's thigh.

 

"You asked for it."

 

"And I'd ask for it again."

 

"Any time." Judy rests her hand on top of Jen's.

 

"Don't tempt me."

 

"What if I want to?" Judy lives for this, their flirting, could do it all day. They're interrupted by the flight attendant's announcement of impending takeoff and safety information. Judy looks out the window, can still see the city; she watches it get smaller and smaller as they taxi along the runway. "I had such a great time."

 

"I did, too," Jen says, then her voice changes a bit, "Do you miss it?"

 

Judy snaps her head to look at Jen, can see slight worry in her eyes. She knows what Jen's really asking, Do you regret leaving? It surprises her that Jen would ever have that thought in her mind, but everyone needs reassurance sometimes. She shakes her head vehemently, wants to do everything she can to make sure Jen knows she could never regret it, not for a second. "I'll miss being here with you. I can't wait to get back to our home. I can't wait to see the boys."

 

Jen's eyes soften with relief, "Really?"

 

"Absolutely," Judy settles her head onto Jen's shoulder. "Happiest place on Earth."

 

*

 

They slip right back into their daily routine when they get home (the boys love their souvenirs, matching I ESCAPED FROM ALCATRAZ PRISON t-shirts that they slip on immediately with smiles so Judy can snap a picture, Charlie after only a little prodding), and Judy learns the phrase "time flies when you're having fun" has some truth to it. 

 

Soon, summer is over and the boys are back to school. A couple of weeks later, Jen has a check-up scheduled with Dr. Johnston, even though she insists she doesn't need it and she's perfectly fine. She is, she's doing great, but there have been times her memory isn't quite what it used to be, and Judy knows it's frustrating her. 

 

Judy holds Jen's hand as they walk up to the hospital, heading to Dr. Johnston's office. Jen is quiet; Judy can sense she's nervous. "You okay?" She asks softly. 

 

Jen glances over at her, nods once in affirmation, but has an uneasy look on her face. "I am. I just really don't like thinking about the last time I was here."

 

Judy's heart clenches, she understands completely- it was such a difficult time, but it feels like a lifetime ago. They don't ever really talk about any of it, there doesn't seem to be a need to, but it makes sense that being back at the hospital would bring it back to the present for Jen. "I get it. It's okay. I'm here... always will be."

 

Jen's face softens with a smile. "I know," she exhales, "lucky me."

 

When they get checked in, a nurse takes Jen for some brain scans first thing, and tells Judy she can wait in the doctor's office- Jen assures her it's fine. Judy picks up a magazine to pass the time while she waits (Stars, they're just like us! Taylor Swift pumps gas! The Rock goes to the gym! Judy laughs to herself when she sees The Rock), and when Jen gets back about a half hour later, they're led back to see Dr. Johnston.

 

"Jen! Judy! So nice to see you both," he says when he walks in. Judy notices his gaze shift to their clasped hands with a smile. 

 

"It's great to see you, too," Judy says, and it is- he was so wonderful to her when Jen was in the coma, and obviously took great care of Jen. 

 

"Wait, who are you again?" Jen says, and Judy whips her head to look at her, alarmed, but before she can say anything Jen adds, "Joking! Sorry, I know, not funny. Good to see you too, Doc."

 

Doctor Johnston is laughing, "I'm glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humor. How have you been doing? I'm sensing that your memories came back?" He looks between the two of them pointedly.

 

"Yes," Jen nods, "it took me awhile to come to my senses, but most everything came back to me. Judy helps fill in the rest." Judy feels Jen squeeze her hand, she squeezes right back. 

 

"That's great to hear. The scans should be available in a few minutes, but I feel confident you've made a full recovery. Any issues at all you want to talk about?" He pats the exam table, and Jen stands up from the chair next to Judy to sit on it. He checks her vitals, then shines a light into her eyes to check those. 

 

Jen answers while he's examining her. "Well, I do feel like my memory isn't as sharp as it used to be, just in general. I remember most important stuff but smaller things I forget. Where I put my keys, acquaintances names, where to find things at the store I've been to a million times, things like that."

 

The doctor steps back, "Everything looks good, you can sit back in the chair if you want." She does, Judy immediately reaches over to take her hand again, and he continues, "Some of what you're describing might be a normal part of the aging process, but your injury could exacerbate that. I recommend you do different brain exercises, they can really help."

 

"'Brain exercises?'" Judy can hear the doubt and laughter in Jen's voice, has to stifle a laugh herself at the look on her face. 

 

"Yes, sudoku, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, things like that. I know, it sounds lame, but they do help to keep the mind sharp."

 

Judy is expecting a snarky comment; she's surprised to see a smile bloom on Jen's face. Jen looks at Judy, then back at Doctor Johnston, "Okay. I do have a newfound appreciation for puzzles, I'll try that."

 

Judy feels like there's something she's missing, but before she can ask, the nurse comes in and hands Jen's scans to Doctor Johnston. "They look perfect," he says after a moment. "Unless you have any new issues arise, I don't see a need for further check-ups." He sticks his hand out to Jen, who stands up to shake it; Judy does the same.

 

"Thank you so much for everything," Judy says, feeling a swell of emotion. 

 

"Thanks, Doc," Jen echoes. 

 

"You're both very welcome," he hesitates, then adds, "I must say, you two are a very beautiful couple, and I don't just mean on the outside. I could tell immediately, and I'm very happy for you that you've made a smooth recovery. Take care." He walks out the door, Jen and Judy following behind. 

 

"Smart man," Jen says as she wraps her arm around Judy's shoulders, pulling her close. 

 

*

 

After Jen's appointment, they do buy a variety of puzzles: Van Gogh's Starry night, Star Wars (the boys have a newfound obsession with Baby Yoda), and a couple of random animal ones. Puzzles become a staple for them in the evenings after dinner, something fun to do as a family rather than watch TV. 

 

Another new regular fixture at the house is Natalie, who Jen and Judy both fall in love with the first time she comes over for dinner. Charlie is obviously smitten, on his best behavior around her- but also himself- which warms Judy's heart to see. She comes over for dinner once or twice a week, and Charlie even brings her to the retirement home with him to volunteer once a month. Natalie is interested in learning to cook, her mom works two jobs since they lost her dad, and doesn't have time to teach her, so Judy is obviously happy to oblige. These are the kinds of things she's always longed for, the kinds of things that make her feel like she's a mom. 

 

One night, Natalie is helping Judy shred some chicken for enchiladas while Jen and the boys sit at the bar, working on the Baby Yoda puzzle. "What was I thinking getting a 500 piece puzzle? I think 100 is definitely my limit," Jen complains.

 

"You're doing good, Mommy," Henry says. "You got all of the corner pieces put together."

 

Charlie bursts out laughing and Judy looks up, smiling, to see Jen shoot a glare at Henry. "Wow, thank you, sweetheart."

 

He smiles sweetly. "You're welcome."

 

Charlie pushes aside the pile of green pieces he's been unsuccessfully sorting through and sighs, "Yeah, I could use a break."

 

"You could help us," Natalie chimes in, and now it's Jen's turn to laugh. 

 

"Ha! Good one, Nat," she says, and Charlie looks indignant as he stands up, walking to the other side of the island to join them. 

 

"Hey, I can help! I've helped before! Remember the vegetable lasagna?" He looks to Judy for help, and she nods.

 

"I do, it was fantastic!" She confirms, winking at him; he gives her a grateful smile in return.

 

Jen holds up an index finger. "That was the one singular time you've stepped foot in the kitchen." 

 

"I've helped with dishes!"

 

"To cook," Jen clarifies.

 

"I've cooked other stuff!"

 

"I don't th-" Jen starts, but is cut off by Henry.

 

"He's right, you know," he jumps in. 

 

"Yes, thank you Henry!" Charlie leans over to give his brother a fist bump. 

 

"No problem. You made me Bagel Bites that time, and they were barely even burnt."

 

They all laugh at that; even Charlie smiles. "Okay, I guess I could use some lessons, too. What can I do to help?"

 

Judy gives him a bowl and the ingredients for the enchilada sauce, then goes back to helping Natalie with the chicken, humming to the music coming from Natalie's phone. Another thing Judy's learned about Natalie is that she really enjoys music, and likes to share her "Spotify playlists" while they're cooking, mostly "folk-pop stuff". Judy doesn't know what that means, but she is a fan of the music- another way she can tell how much Charlie likes Natalie is he pretends to like it, too. It's a far cry from the heavy metal and rap he usually listens to.

 

Judy goes to grab the tortillas out of the pantry, and catches Jen's gaze following her, can feel it. She's used to it now, it happens all the time- but that doesn't mean she takes the look in Jen's eyes for granted. She never will.

 

*

 

It's October, and Jen's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. One night as they're cuddling in bed, a home renovation show on in the background, Judy thinks to ask what she wants to do to celebrate. She's always loved celebrating other people, making them feel special, and now that she has someone she's so happy with, she's can't wait to spend Jen's birthday with her.

 

"Oh, I don't know," is Jen's absent-minded reply, "I honestly haven't thought about it."

 

There's something in Jen's tone, the something that's there when Judy can tell she isn't quite telling the truth. Judy's learned to be patient, there's always a reason for it, and Jen will always come around.

 

"Okay," she says as she runs her fingers through Jen's hair, "are you sure? It kind of sounds like you've been thinking a lot about it."

 

Jen sighs, nuzzling even closer to Judy, "How is it you can read my mind?"

 

Judy smiles, "It's love, baby."

 

Jen's silent for a few minutes, and Judy lets her be. Then, quietly, "I'll be 48 this year."

 

"Yeah..." Judy waits for the catch.

 

"It's older than my mom ever got to be."

 

Ah, there it is. Of course. Judy feels like shit for not seeing it sooner. "Oh, Jen, I'm sorry."

 

"No, it's okay. I always thought I would dread this birthday, thought it would be terrible, the worst birthday ever. But I think I've just been feeling guilty."

 

"Why do you feel guilty?" It hurts Judy's heart, Jen feeling bad in any way. 

 

"Because I feel like I should be grieving, or something... but I'm happier than I've ever been."

 

Judy's heart tightens again, with pain and joy this time at Jen's words. "You've grieved your mom for a long time, and a loss like that never goes away. But don't you think she'd want you to celebrate? Want you to live the longest, happiest life you can?"

 

"Of course," Jen says, "You're right. God, she would have loved you."

 

"I love her," Judy says, immediately, and Jen laughs a little, Judy feels it soft on her chest. "I know, you think I'm nuts, but I do. She made you." 

 

"I love you," Jen responds.

 

"Love you too."

 

"Okay, so to answer your question, I think I want a family dinner with my favorite people, we can invite Chris and Alan, too. Then there is something I've wanted to do, but never had the courage to... and if we're celebrating being alive, what better time to do it?" 

 

"What is it?" Judy's almost scared to hear the answer. "Please tell me I'm not going to have to jump out of an airplane with you. I'll do it, I will, but I will NOT like it."

 

"Fuck no! Far less dangerous than that. I've always wanted to get a tattoo."

 

"Oohhhh, sexy! What do you wanna get?"

 

"I don't know. I figure it will come to me."

 

That's how, after a few drinks at Jen's birthday dinner, Chris and Alan offer to take the boys and Natalie home, and Jen and Judy are sitting in a tattoo parlor. 

 

"Well?" Judy leans over Jen as she flips through a book of tattoo examples. "Has it come to you yet?"

 

"Hmmm... maybe. Think I'm badass enough to pull this off?" She points to a skull, with intricate vines of roses snaking in and out and around it. 

 

"Um," Judy pauses, searching for a tactful way to say this, "No."

 

"Thanks, babe," Jen laughs. "Okay, I don't know. Maybe this was stupid. I don't see anything I'd want to have on me forever."

 

"Hmmm..." Judy rests her chin on Jen's shoulder. "Well, what's something you could never get sick of?"

 

"You," is Jen's immediate response. 

 

"That's so sweet," Judy grins at her, "but you're not getting me tattooed on you."

 

A smile creeps onto Jen's face, and Judy knows she's figured it out.

 

Jen ends up with a small, purple heart on the inside of her left wrist.

 

Of course, Judy gets a matching red one on hers.

 

*

 

The holidays come and go- the happiest Judy has ever known. She has a family to cook a big Thanksgiving dinner for, a family to shower with Christmas presents (who shower her in return), Jen to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve. She even has a reason to celebrate Valentine's Day, and Jen and the boys go all out to make her feel special on her birthday. Before she knows it, it's spring. 

 

Jen has been coming with her to San Francisco every other month. They'd love for it to be every month (with Judy's other travel, they have to spend nights apart too much for their liking- luckily only two or three at a time), but would both feel bad leaving the boys at Lorna's that often.

 

With baseball season starting, and the boys' spring break coming up, they decide it's finally time to plan a long weekend trip that includes Charlie and Henry. Just like she loves experiencing new things with Jen, it's thrilling for Judy to share this with the boys. Charlie sulks for a bit the morning they leave about not getting to bring Natalie with them, but he's over it by the time the plane takes off. They're all excited, Henry the most so. 

 

Jen and Judy decide to forego their usual winery trips, as tempting as "Charlie as designated driver" is. They go to a Giants game, and the boys have a blast- they love trying different ballpark food, and get even more into the game than Judy expected. The company season tickets aren't available, so they buy seats in the nosebleeds, but it's even better- the view of the water is fantastic from that high up. There are even fireworks after the game, and watching the three people she loves most in the world's faces illuminated in wonder as they watch them is a memory Judy will keep forever.

 

They all step out of their comfort zones and do some hiking through the famous San Francisco redwood trees- none of them are particularly fond of spending time out in nature, but Judy thinks they have a good time, anyway. The real hit of the trip, as Judy thought it would be, is the Alcatraz tour. Charlie is even super into it, and they don't stop talking about it for weeks afterwards. On the plane ride home, Jen and Judy are exhausted- very different from the usual relaxation they feel- but it's absolutely worth it.

 

Two months later, it's the week of Judy's meeting and Jen is set to join. Judy's making dinner one evening when Jen gets home from work, sitting down at the bar with a sigh. 

 

"Hi!" Judy greets her. "Rough day?"

 

"No," Jen answers, but she looks... nervous, Judy thinks.

 

"What's wrong?" Judy puts down the knife and vegetables she's chopping, goes to sit next to Jen, hand on her leg. 

 

"Nothing! I promise," Jen puts her hand on top of Judy's, "I just need to change our plans a bit this trip."

 

"Oh!" Judy exhales, relieved. "If you can't come, that's totally fine, you know that right? I never want you to feel obligated. I can go to my meeting and come home, it's no big deal at all."

 

"No, that's not it," Jen smiles, "I did cancel our usual hotel, though."

 

Now Judy's really confused. "Well, where will we stay?"

 

"I booked us a bed and breakfast in Napa instead. It's really close to Bouchaine, and I figured we could drive there Friday when you're done with work. What do you think?"

 

Judy lurches forward, throwing her arms around Jen's neck. She loves Jen so much, she could cry. "I'm so lucky. You planned this for us, for no reason? You're amazing."

 

Jen squeezes her back, then pulls away, cheeks pink, "Well, it's not for no reason..." when Judy quirks an eyebrow, questioning, Jen continues, "You moved back home a year ago, Jude."

 

Judy's jaw drops. They've never discussed an anniversary date, it's never really been on Judy's radar... but Jen is right. That means they've been together a whole year. Her stomach drops. "Oh my gosh, Jen, I'm so sorry. I'm the worst. I can't believe I didn't think about it, it's been the greatest year of my entire life, I feel awful-"

 

Jen leans forward, silencing her with a kiss. "Shush. You're the fucking best, the best ever. I'm happy to be the thoughtful one for once," she smiles, and the tension leaves Judy's body immediately, excitement replacing it.

 

"I'm rubbing off on you, huh?"

 

Jen's smile turns into a smirk. "Save the dirty talk for this weekend, baby."

 

*

 

Judy is even more excited than normal on their early Friday morning flight, and Jen seems to be feeling that way, too. Judy notices her drumming her fingers excitedly on the armrest as they wait for takeoff and smiles; Jen's usually the calm one. 

 

"Who's the little kid excited about going to Disney World now?" Judy can't help but tease her, as she stills her hand by grabbing it. 

 

Jen looks up at her and smiles, "I am so not like a little kid going to Disney World."

 

"Uh huh."

 

"More like a woman in love looking forward to a romantic weekend with her girlfriend of a year."

 

Since they don't have a hotel to check in to, Jen drops Judy off at the office in the rental car, says she'll find some places to go to keep busy and will pick her up later to head to their bed and breakfast. Judy can hardly contain herself all day, she's definitely distracted, and Margo notices.

 

"What's going on?" She asks Judy mid-afternoon.

 

Judy looks up from her laptop. "What do you mean?"

 

"It seems like your mind is somewhere else today," Margo says with a smile.

 

"Oh," Judy feels a blush on her cheeks, "I'm sorry. Jen planned a special weekend for us at a bed and breakfast in Napa for our one year anniversary, and I guess I'm just excited."

 

"It's been a year already! My goodness. You should have said something! I'm so happy for you two. Get out of here, we've done enough today."

 

"Seriously?!"

 

Margo nods, "Of course. Go get your weekend started."

 

Judy doesn't need to be told again. She gathers her things and pulls Margo into a tight hug, feeling so thankful, not for the first time or the last. "Thank you."

 

She calls Jen to let her know she's done already, and Jen sounds happy, if a little stressed. "I'll be there in about 30 minutes or so. Is that okay? I'm sorry babe."

 

"That's totally fine. I'll walk to the coffee shop and get a drink. Pick me up there?"

 

45 minutes later, Judy is sliding into the passenger seat of the car, a coffee in each hand. 

 

Jen smiles at her, "Thank you!"

 

"You're welcome. It was an early morning, figured we could use an energy boost."

 

"Absolutely."

 

Jen types an address into the car's GPS system, and they're on their way. They roll the windows down as they drive through the city, Judy soaks in the sunshine on her face and the wind in her hair. It never gets old driving over the bridge to get out of the city. Soon they're driving through the familiar hills and vineyards; Judy hadn't asked anything about their bed and breakfast, wanted to be surprised, and the closer they get, the more excited she feels. 

 

They pull into a small parking lot surrounded by trees. Judy can't see the B&B yet, but Jen seems confident they're in the right place, putting the car in park and grinning at Judy before she opens the door. They grab their luggage and Jen leads her to a small path in the trees, and suddenly she's transported- into a huge front lawn with beautiful landscaping and flowers, the path continuing past a large fountain up to the wrap-around front porch of a huge, Colonial-looking mansion. It's absolutely gorgeous.

 

"Jen," Judy breathes, in complete awe, "this is incredible."

 

Jen looks at her, small, nervous smile on her lips. "You like it?"

 

Judy hopes her blinding smile is a good enough answer. 

 

They're greeted by an elderly woman named Rosa who welcomes them to "Churchill Manor" ("So fancy!" Judy leans over to whisper to Jen). 

 

"You must be Miss Harding and Miss Hale," Rosa says. "Let me show you to your room!"

 

"Jen and Judy," Judy corrects her. "I'm Judy. It's nice to meet you!"

 

"Nice to meet you, dear. You too, Jen, though I feel like I know you already."

 

Judy turns to Jen, eyebrows raised. Jen shrugs, "We talked on the phone a couple of times when I was figuring out where we should stay."

 

They follow Rosa upstairs and she opens a door for them, then says, "Your dinner will be served at 7:00 on the back patio. Make yourselves at home!"

 

Judy looks around, wanting to take it all in. The room is beautiful, ornately decorated, and she looks out the window to see incredible views of the back garden and vineyards in the near distance. Jen sits down on the huge bed, and Judy's eyes focus there next. Beside Jen is a bottle of champagne chilling next to a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, propped up on it a small white card that reads "Happy Anniversary!"

 

Judy meets Jen's eyes. She can't believe this. The planning it must have taken... No one has ever done anything so thoughtful for her before (cheesy flash mob notwithstanding), and she's speechless. When she sees the look on Jen's face change from expectant to proud, to happy, she knows words aren't needed. Jen holds up the champagne and points it toward the two glasses on the serving tray. "Shall we?" Judy nods and grabs the glasses, squealing in surprise when Jen suddenly pops the cork off the champagne; their shared laughter is Judy's favorite sound in the world. 

 

They relax a bit then do some exploring of the grounds until dinner. As they're eating and enjoying the views, Jen brings up the plan for the next day.

 

"I know Bouchaine is your favorite winery, and we haven't really done a full tour of it, so I booked us a private tour for tomorrow afternoon," she says, nonchalantly, as if she's telling Judy they're going to the grocery store. 

 

"Jen! Oh my God! You've done so much!" Judy feels almost guilty about it, she hasn't done enough.

 

"You deserve all of it, Judy. And this is the last surprise, promise," she smiles.

 

"Okay. Well, that sounds amazing and I can't wait." Judy drops her voice a bit, "I have a couple of things up my sleeve for you, too."

 

"Oh, do you?" Jen raises an eyebrow, sensing her tone.

 

Judy nods, "Yep. I'll show you after dinner."

 

Jen's eyes bore into hers. "I can't wait."

 

*

 

When they're back in their room after dinner, drinks, and dessert, feeling slightly tipsy, Judy grabs her suitcase to take with her to the bathroom. She looks at Jen, who is watching her intently. "Get undressed and lie facedown. I'll be back in a few minutes."

 

"Yes ma'am," Jen replies, in the bedroom voice Judy loves so much, the one she knows is just for her. 

 

In the bathroom with the door closed, Judy pulls out the new massage oil she bought recently, and another surprise she got for Jen- new black lace lingerie. Jen has always seemed to appreciate her in lace, but she's only ever worn a matching bra and thong; this is definitely different. It's one piece, and Judy feels downright sexy as she puts it on- it ties behind her neck and back, and there are thin straps that loop around her thighs, the only thing keeping it up as there's no real bottom to it. When she's ready, she comes out of the bathroom to find Jen exactly where she told her to be, the sight of her naked back making Judy feel instantly warm. 

 

Wordlessly, Judy climbs onto the bed and straddles Jen's lower back. Jen hums in response, "Mmmm, hi. Missed you."

 

Judy giggles, "Oh, hi sweet talker." She sets the massage oil to the side for a second, as she leans over to gather Jen's hair and move it out of the way. Then she can't help but lean further down, her front to Jen's back, press a few open-mouthed kisses to Jen's now exposed neck. 

 

She leans back, and Jen asks, "What are you wearing?", tries to lift her head to see, probably thought Judy was naked until she felt the lace on her back. Judy gently pushes Jen's head back onto the bed. 

 

"Sorry babe, not yet. If you're a good girl, I'll show you."

 

"Oh, fuck," Jen groans, shifting her hips on the bed, not much, but enough for Judy to notice. She presses her hips down in response, then opens the massage oil, pours a generous amount into her hands, rubs them together to warm it up. Judy starts at Jen's neck and shoulders, thumbs digging in deep like she knows Jen likes. The further she works down her back, Jen's breathing gets deeper, her moans of pleasure more frequent, each one spurring Judy on. All she wants to do, after Jen has made her feel so special, is make her feel as amazing as possible. Every so often, she'll lean down and pick a spot to kiss. She can tell Jen's trying to be patient, be good, but as Judy scoots down her body to reach her ass, hands running over the swell of it, Jen lets out a whimper, hips pushing up off the bed. Judy's own desire is overtaking her, and as she continues the massage further down, kneading more roughly now, she dips her head to take Jen's flesh between her teeth, biting gently.

 

The sound Jen makes lets Judy know she really likes that, so she does it again, then kisses the two slightly red spots of skin. Jen's writhing now, and Judy is done making her wait. She runs her hands down her legs to her knees, nudging them; Jen takes the hint and pushes up on them a bit, creating space between her and the bed. "Yes, baby, please," she pants, and Judy gives her what she wants, immediately entering her with two fingers. Between the oil and Jen, it's so slick, and Judy adds one more after a few moments. 

 

"How's that feel?" Judy gets up on her own knees as tall as she can behind her, anchors her free hand on Jen's back. 

 

"Fuuuuuucccckkkk," is all she gets in response, slightly muffled, as Jen's hips thrust back to meet her hand, again and again, then still suddenly. "I want to see you," Judy hears, so she stops, pulls back so Jen can roll over. As soon as she does, Judy's on her, kissing her with everything she has, straddling her thigh and grinding into it, tongue swirling in Jen's mouth. Jen gives as good as she gets for a bit, then Judy feels Jen's hands push up on her shoulders, and she leans back, gasping for air. Jen's hands are on her hips now, gripping tight as her wide eyes take Judy in slowly, one hand moving to cup a breast over the lace. "Holy fuck."

 

Judy just smiles, reaches down to find Jen's clit, slow circles like she likes, then back inside her with the perfect rhythm she knows will make her come undone. She does, quickly, keeping her eyes open and on Judy as long as possible, finally slamming them shut as she clenches around Judy's fingers. Judy slides off her while she recovers, lays next to her and laces their fingers together. She's now desperate for Jen to touch her, and knows it will be only a minute or two before-

 

Jen rolls over suddenly, full weight on top of Judy, hands in her hair and lips on her neck, trailing down. One hand is running all over Judy's torso, Judy arches up into it, and Jen takes one of Judy's lace covered breasts in her mouth- the combination of the heat from Jen's tongue and rough lace against her sensitive skin is driving Judy wild, and she hisses out a "Yesss" as her hands fist in Jen's hair, holding her close. Jen moves her mouth to Judy's other breast as her hand travels down, finally to where Judy wants her, ghosting her fingers over her, teasing. "Please," Judy whispers, and feels Jen's smile as she obliges, fingers inside her now, and she groans in relief. While Jen's fingers move fast, her mouth moves slowly, down Judy's stomach when it's finished with her chest, finally meeting up with Jen's hand- flat of her tongue circling Judy's clit as her fingers continue to fuck her. Judy's overwhelmed with sensation, has been on her way to a spectacular orgasm ever since she first touched Jen, and soon she can't hold it back any longer, practically shouting Jen's name as she comes. 

 

Jen snuggles up to her after, lays her head on her chest, one hand drawing lazy patterns over black lace, and they're quiet for a few minutes as they catch their breath. Then, "So, you're never taking this off, right?"

 

Judy's answering laughter rumbles through them both.

 

*

 

After a nice leisurely brunch the next morning, they make the 10 minute drive to the winery. Jen leads them inside, where she finds a man behind the bar. "Hi, I'm Jen Harding, we're here for-"

 

"Private tour! Yes!" He smiles. "I'm Jake. I'll be your guide, give me just one second." Jake hands the bottle of wine he's holding to another woman who works there, wipes his hands off on a towel and walks around the bar to meet them. "How are you two today?"

 

"Great!" Judy answers, feeling like some kind of VIP, and she looks over to Jen, who has a far-off look on her face, but gives a nod and an "Mmm hmm!" of agreement when their eyes meet. 

 

Jake leads them outside, "So first thing we're going to do is give you a private tasting in the vineyards. Follow me." Judy has no idea what to expect from a private tasting, didn't even know that was a thing, but she's loving every second of this. 

 

Jen grabs Judy's hand as they walk, down the same rows of vines they've been through before, where they took the picture that's still her phone background. They walk a bit until they get to a large wine barrel that's set up as a table, two chairs that Jake pulls out for them. "I'll be back," he says, and off he goes. 

 

On the table, there's a small vase of multi-colored roses, a bottle of Judy's favorite wine, two glasses, and a box with "Judy" written on top, in Jen's handwriting. Judy's mouth drops open. "You said the tour was the last surprise!"

 

Jen huffs out a breath, "Yes, this is part of it!" She opens the bottle of wine, starts pouring them each a glass. "Open the box," she says, softly. Judy grabs it, takes the top off, and is surprised to see what's inside- a wooden puzzle. The pieces are large, there can't be more than 20, and there's no images on them, but seems to be words, something written in capital letters. She looks up at Jen, who nods. "Let's put it together."

 

Jen helps her take the pieces out, but as Judy starts putting it together, hers are the only hands working. It takes only a couple of minutes, and Judy feels her heart start to pound, adrenaline coursing through her veins as it becomes clear what it says. She doesn't dare look up at Jen until she snaps the final piece in place, and there it is:

 

WILL YOU MARRY ME?

 

Judy still doesn't quite believe it's happening until she finally shifts her eyes away from the puzzle and turns to Jen, who is holding out a ring- the stone in the middle is oval-shaped, appears to be rose quartz (the stone of universal love), surrounded by small diamonds, with a diamond encrusted rose gold band. It's the most beautiful ring Judy's ever seen. Her eyes fill with tears and happiness bubbles up from within her, coming out as laughter, as she looks from the ring to Jen's face. 

 

Jen's tears are falling unbidden down over her smile as she chokes out one word: "Please?"

 

Judy can't answer fast enough. 

 

"Yes."

 

*

 

The boys are thrilled, Henry practically tackles Judy when they get home, Charlie right behind him. They both hug her tight. 

 

"We helped with the ring," Charlie says, proudly, and just when Judy thinks she couldn't possibly feel any happier, she does.

 

They want a small wedding, and neither of them feel the need for a long engagement, so they set a date that's only a couple of months away. Every decision is easy, comes naturally, and they are foregoing a lot of what would be considered tradition. One thing Judy really wants, though, is a first dance, and Jen agrees- the problem is, they don't have a song. Nothing seems right. Judy brings up the song they slow danced to at Christopher's wedding, because that was such a special moment, but neither of them particularly like Ed Sheeran. 

 

A couple of weeks before the wedding, Natalie is over cooking with Judy. Jen's doing some work on her laptop at the bar while the boys lounge on the couch, the usual music playing from Natalie's phone. A new song starts, and it catches Judy's ear. It's an old classic, but Judy's never heard this version before- a woman's soothing voice singing it instead of Elvis' signature twang. 

 

"Who sings this?" Judy asks. 

 

"It's Ingrid Michaelson!" Natalie answers, "Isn't it pretty?"

 

Judy looks up, and Jen is already looking back at her. They share a smile. "It is," Judy says, knowing they've found it. 

 

*

 

The week before the wedding, Jen and Judy are at the grocery store, getting a few things when they hear a familiar voice behind them. "Jennifer Harding and Judy Hale."

 

Judy spins around on her heel immediately, "Detective!"

 

"Not Detective-"

 

"Ana, hi, how are you?" Jen jumps in. 

 

"Oh, right, sorry, I forgot," Judy says, flustered. "I did hear about your career change. Wow, you look great! Whatever you're doing now definitely agrees with you!"

 

"Private security," Ana's eyes move down a bit, she sees that Jen and Judy are holding hands, but doesn't look surprised. "You two finally hooked up, huh? How's the brain doing, Harding?"

 

"It's perfect, thanks."

 

"Good to hear. I'm happy for you two."

 

"We're getting married next week!" Judy blurts out, she's not sure why; something about this woman has always made her nervous. 

 

What seems to be a true smile crosses Ana's face, "Congratulations. Truly, I wish you both the best."

 

"Thank you, Ana," Jen's voice is full of sincerity.

 

Ana nods once, crisply. "Take care."

 

A few days later, they receive a package in the mail. There's a card, "Congratulations!" on the front. Inside is a short note:

 

Jen and Judy- 

Enjoy these (but stay out of the real ones).  Congratulations on your marriage.

-Ana Perez

 

Judy reads it out loud to Jen, then her eyes widen as she pulls out the gift: fuzzy handcuffs and a small jar of chocolate body paint. 

 

Jen cracks up laughing, then exclaims "Detective Per-ez!"

 

Judy shakes her head, smiling- she loves it when people surprise her, and this is definitely surprising. "What a nice gift," she says as she puts them safely in her nightstand drawer. "Would be rude not to use them on our wedding night."

 

Jen looks at her, eyes sparkling, "Well, we wouldn't want to be rude."

 

*

 

Jen and Judy get married on a Saturday evening in early August, under the same pergola where they first met. The pinkish-purple bougainvillea are in full bloom, providing the perfect backdrop along with the gentle sounds of the ocean. 

 

They had gone against tradition and done their wedding dress shopping together- it was so much fun doing it that way, and it doesn't take away from the first time they see each other in them on their wedding day. They each feel like the luckiest person in the world (Judy doesn't argue with Jen when she insists "No, I'm the luckiest", though Judy knows she definitely is). 

 

Judy's dress has a very beachy feel to it- a sheer white chiffon layer on top of a layer of intricate lace beading, thin straps that lead down to a plunging V-neck, long skirt that fans out a bit. She decides to keep it simple and leave her hair down, she's been letting it grow out, but Jen does help her give her bangs a trim.

 

Jen's dress is so perfectly her, Judy thinks. It's a sweetheart neckline, has sheer lace sleeves with delicately embroidered flowers that continue up around the shoulders and down to the bodice; the skirt of the dress falls straight down to the ground. Judy helps her fashion her hair in a low, loose bun, with a few soft curls left out, framing her face. She looks ethereal, other-worldly, and Judy can't tear her eyes away from her. 

 

The only people at the ceremony, other than the brides, are Charlie and Henry, in simple grey slacks and white button-up shirts, Christopher (who'd cried when they asked him to officiate), and Alan (who has a knack for photography and a camera that isn't a phone). 

 

Chris keeps it short and sweet, and leaves religion out of it, as requested; he does share a few words about how much Jen and Judy mean to him, how wonderful it's been to witness their love grow, and thanks "whatever entity" is out there that brought them together. 

 

They write their own vows. Judy goes first, and looking into Jen's eyes as she says them is one of the most powerful things she's ever experienced. "Jen, as soon as we met I knew how special you were. You welcomed me into your home almost immediately, and that home has become ours, has changed and grown so much over the last two years, just like my love for you. You've given me a family, a family like I've never had. I don't know how I could ever give you as much as you've given me, but I promise I'll spend every day for the rest of my life trying. I'll make you cherry pie whenever you want, be your personal masseuse, be the best wife to you and mother to Charlie and Henry that I can possibly be, and no matter what life throws at us, I'll be by your side. I know we can get through anything together. I love you more every day and thank you so much for loving me." Judy makes it through without crying, and is incredibly proud of herself, but when Jen's tears of happiness start to fall as she begins her vows, Judy can't help but join her. 

 

"Jude, I struggled so much to put into words how much I love you and how much you mean to me. Sometimes the word "love" doesn't seem strong enough. You're the most beautiful person I've ever known, and that beauty radiates from the inside out. I've learned so much from the way you love other people. You're an incredible mom to the boys, and you've made me a better mother. You've already been with me through thick and thin, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health-" Jen's breath catches then, she has to stop and compose herself, "Fuck! I was doing so good." Judy smiles at her, heart bursting at the seams. "Okay. I'm good. You've stuck by me through everything, and I'll do the same for you. And if my mind were to ever completely leave me, and forget you," she takes a shaky breath, "I promise you my soul never could." Judy feels the happy tears falling, then laughs when Jen adds quickly, "Oh, and you're the most stunning bride I've ever fucking seen."

 

They exchange rings then, simple diamond-encrusted bands, Judy's rose gold to match her engagement ring, Jen's in white gold (Judy wanted to get her an engagement ring, too, but believes her when she says she really doesn't want one). 

 

When Christopher pronounces them married, and the boys hoop and holler behind them- Judy's felt no greater joy than the first time she kisses her wife.

 

*

 

The reception is small, held in their backyard, under a canopy of lights with a make-shift dance floor by the pool. Jen and Judy mingle with their guests as they all enjoy drinks and catered food. Chris and Alan are there, and Adele is running around the yard in her tux ("It would be a waste for her to wear it only once," Chris had told them; Judy thought Jen's eyes might get stuck in the back of her head with her responding eye roll). Henry, Shandy, Charlie, and Natalie are already goofing off on the dance floor- Natalie had agreed to be a DJ of sorts, linking up her phone with Charlie's new Bluetooth speakers. Shandy's parents are there too, even her dad- apparently it's his annual week back on the grid. He seems nice enough, if a little on edge. Karen's there with her new boyfriend, Randy, who she met after he reached out to her about watching her vlog. She seems happy, looks at him with stars in her eyes, and it makes Judy smile. Margo, Dan, Greg and Katy are the guests Judy is most surprised about, she invited them not really thinking they'd come, but they all decide to make a weekend trip to Laguna. Margo tells her she wouldn't have missed it for the world. 

 

Lorna comes for a little while, has a drink and drops off a present. "I can't wait to see what's in that box," Jen says to Judy, but later, before Lorna leaves, Judy sees them share a few words and a hug, and it makes her so happy they've found peace. 

 

Jen and Judy are sharing a moment together when Shandy walks up to them. "Congratulations," she says, "I love weddings. Such a joyous occasion," uttered in her usual tone, that seemingly contradicts the words she's saying.

 

"Thanks, Shandy!" Judy replies. "I'm glad you came, and your parents, too. It must be really nice having your dad home."

 

Shandy sighs, "Yeah, I like having him home, but we have to keep all electronics off when he's in the house. Honestly I prefer the electronics."

 

"Understandable," Jen nods as Judy buries her laughter in Jen's shoulder. 

 

After Shandy walks off, Jen asks, "Want to go ahead and do our first dance? I want to get changed out of my dress." Jen bought a new white pantsuit to wear, something more comfortable for the party, and Judy nods, excited to see her in it. 

 

They get Natalie's attention, and she nods and goes over to her phone to get the song going. The dance floor clears and Jen and Judy take their place in the center, smiling at each other while all the people in the world they love the most watch. Judy wraps her arms around Jen's neck and pulls herself as close to her as possible as the music starts and they begin to dance. 

 

Wise men say only fools rush in

But I can't help falling in love with you

Shall I stay

Would it be a sin

If I can't help falling in love with you

 

"What are you thinking about?" Jen asks, directly in Judy's ear. 

 

Judy's answer is easy, honest. "How much I love you. How perfect today's been, how perfect life is." She pulls her head back a little, so they're eye-to-eye. "What about you?"

 

Jen bites her lip, shifts her eyes down. "Uhhh..."

 

Like a river flows surely to the sea

Darling so it goes

Some things are meant to be

 

"What?! Tell me. We're always supposed to be honest with each other, you know. That was an unspoken vow."

 

So take my hand, and take my whole life too

'Cause I can't help falling in love with you

 

Jen looks up, blue eyes meeting brown, and a huge grin takes over her face. Judy's never seen something so breathtaking. "Fuzzy handcuffs."

 

*

 

When they're finally alone later that night, Judy's wrists are straining against the handcuffs, Jen is sucking body chocolate off Judy's breasts as her fingers work magic between Judy's thighs. When Jen whispers, "I can't believe I get to call you my wife" in her ear as she comes, Judy thinks it's the best moment of her life. 

 

Even later, both sated and about to fall asleep, she hears Jen whisper something else- "You know I'd give you anything you wanted, right?"

 

Judy laughs softly. "Jen, you already have. Including twice tonight."

 

She can hear the smile in Jen's voice when she replies, "Well, you're welcome. But no, I mean... I know how much you've always wanted a baby. If that's still something you want, we can find a way. Adoption, surrogacy... we have the money."

 

Judy swallows back tears as Jen rolls over to face her. "Really? You'd want to do the whole baby thing again?"

 

Jen brings her hand up, cups Judy's cheek, thumb gently stroking her cheekbone. "With you? Absolutely."

 

Judy can't stop the tears from spilling as she nods. "Let's look into it."

 

A slow smile spreads across Jen's face. "Yeah?"

 

Judy nods again, wordlessly, and kisses her. 

 

The earlier moment moves to second-best of Judy's life. 

 

*

 

For Jen and Judy's honeymoon, they finally get that hut in Bora Bora. It's by far the most beautiful place Judy's ever seen, well worth the ridiculously long flight it takes to get there. Their suitcases are filled with swimsuits, lingerie, and a few casual dresses for dinners at the resort; a week together in secluded paradise is an absolute dream. 

 

Their first night there, after several shots of free alcohol (well, it's an all-inclusive resort, so technically they've paid for it, but it feels free), they drunkenly come up with a competition to see who can have more orgasms while they're there- Judy's pretty sure they're tied at two after night one. 

 

The days pass too quickly- the sun, sea, and sex filling most of their time. Every day, Jen's tan gets deeper, eyes seem bluer and smile brighter, and Judy thinks she'll do whatever she can to keep her this happy.

 

The morning of their flight home, they reluctantly pack up their things, when Jen asks, "Okay, so I won, 11-10, right?"

 

Judy looks at her in disbelief, "That means I gave you 11, so clearly, I won."

 

Jen shakes her head furiously, always the competitor, "Nope. Those aren't the terms we agreed to."

 

Judy laughs, drops the swimsuit she's holding into her suitcase, then walks over to Jen, snakes her arms around her waist. "Baby, I don't think we actually outlined any terms for this."

 

Truly, Judy thinks they've both won. She can tell by the look in Jen's eyes that she feels the same. 

 

Then, Jen reaches out and pushes Judy down onto the bed, grinning as Judy gasps in surprise. "I think we have time to even the score."

 

*

 

Ding dong .

 

Judy looks over to Jen as they wait at the front door, and has to bite back a laugh at the suddenly panicked look on Jen's face. "We can still leave. We don't have to do this. Let's go. Let's go. Let's g-"

 

"Come on, it won't be that bad! We promised!" Judy cuts her off.

 

Jen is indignant. "YOU promised!"

 

"-And she watched the house for us while we were gone, it's the least we can do."

 

"Watched it?! It's a fucking house! It just sits there! Didn't have to be fed or watered or anythi-"

 

"Hi!!!" Karen's smile is huge as she flings open the door. "Welcome home! Come on in! Wow, you're both so tan!" 

 

Judy smiles, "Thanks, Karen!"

 

"Yeah, thanks," Jen mumbles, post-honeymoon letdown and their reason for being at Karen's keeping her grumpy. 

 

Karen leads them into the kitchen where her laptop is set up, three chairs strategically placed in front of it. She sits down in one and motions to the other two; Judy sits down, Jen follows suit with a sigh. 

 

"Okay, so this isn't live, I can edit it later, but I prefer to keep it as real as possible," she turns to Jen with a slight grimace, "So, if you could try to keep the cussing to a minimum... just in case any minors tune in."

 

Judy bites her tongue to keep from laughing at the look on Jen's face, and her response, "Well I sure as fuck hope they don't!"

 

Karen presses on, "So I'll just ask you two some questions, and we'll see where the conversation goes from there. Super duper casual."

 

"Super duper!" Jen echoes. Judy shoots her a look.

 

"Sounds great, Karen!"

 

Karen adjusts the laptop and pulls up the camera; they can see themselves on the screen. "Ready?" She asks, and they both nod. She hits the red button to start recording, then looks straight into the camera. "Hi everyone! Welcome to this week's edition of 'How Karen Got Her Groove Back!' Today we are going to talk about being open to finding love when you least expect it. As you all know, I met Randy because he saw this vlog, something that was very unexpected. Today my special guests are my neighbors, Jen and Judy," she looks at them and smiles, Judy smiles brightly in return, sees at least a fake smile on Jen's face. Karen continues to the camera, "They are newlyweds who just got back from their honeymooooonnnnn!" She bellows it in a sing-song voice, and Judy feels Jen's fingers dig into her thigh.

 

"Oh God, she thinks she's Oprah," Jen mutters, and Judy lightly slaps her arm (hopefully off camera).

 

Karen focuses back on Jen and Judy. "Tell our viewers about how you two met! I think it's such a romantic story."

 

Jen lets out a laugh, immediately, tries to cover it with a cough, but fails. She only laughs harder, then, can't stop.

 

Judy knows why- she's thinking of what the beginning of their relationship entails:

 

A dead man. 

 

Lies. 

 

Anger. 

 

Betrayal. 

 

Another dead man. 

 

Rinse and repeat. 

 

Jen likes to joke that their love story is like something out of a soap opera, complete with amnesia, the real cherry on top. And she's not wrong. 

 

But Judy thinks of that first morning at the grief group:

 

Jokes about bad coffee. 

 

The feel of Jen's hand in hers for the first time.

 

The way she couldn't stop herself from flirting with her. 

 

What she'd felt when she looked into those eyes she now loves so much. 

 

When Jen gave her a tentative smile and Judy thought, maybe she'll let me in. 

 

The ocean breeze- the same one she felt when they pledged to love each other forever. 

 

"You're right, Karen," Judy smiles, squeezes Jen's hand as their eyes meet, "it's a very romantic story."