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

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Happiness has always been fleeting for Judy Hale. All she's ever wanted is security, love, someone to depend on, who will depend on her in return. Whenever she's managed to find it, she's lost it- no matter how hard she tries. It's like she's struggling desperately to hold onto sand, unable to stop it as it slowly slips through her fingers. 

 

*

 

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

 

The steady sound of the heart monitor and the weight of Jen's hand in hers are the only things keeping Judy tethered to the ground. She can taste the salty tears running down her cheeks as the words "brain swelling" and "medically induced coma" echo over and over again in her mind. It's a sick joke, really, that this happened after all they've been through, after against all odds they'd been happy. Jen would laugh, Judy thinks, if she were conscious, about the irony of it all, of how things have seemingly come full circle- Judy and Jen now being the victims of a hit and run. 

 

But she's not, and all Judy can do is hope she hears Jen's laugh again, soon. She's been hearing it more and more lately, was getting used to the utter joy she felt every time, as things were changing between them. The heaviness of lies and betrayal and violence was fading away, being replaced by their deepening connection and love for each other. Judy closes her eyes and lets herself remember. 

 

*

 

There had been a shift after Jen came home from her failed confession attempt. As they sat on the outdoor couch and Jen held her and said, "I love you", Judy could feel how much she meant it. The kind of love they shared was impossible to label, didn't need to have one, yet, but Judy thinks Jen loves her more than anyone ever has. 

 

Jen has given her so much since they met, and Judy is thrilled after she gets her paintings back and she has the money to give her something in return. When Judy tells her she wants to help her buy out Lorna, she can see the weight lift off Jen's shoulders, relishes the genuine smile she sees on her face, knows she put it there.

 

Their meeting with Lorna is something else. 

 

"For commission on 20 million dollars, I get along with anyone," Lorna sing-songs.

 

"Oh, that's..." Judy trails off, stops herself from saying "fucked up", as she glances to her left, sharing a look with Jen. 

 

After a moment, Lorna speaks again. "So, Jennifer... this money came from Judy," she gestures vaguely in her direction, "so she owns half of the house my grandsons live in?"

 

Judy opens her mouth to say something, to reassure Lorna, but Jen beats her to it. "Well yes Lorna, I guess she does, but I'll make sure they stay in the half that I own, how's that?"

 

Judy stifles a laugh, as Lorna looks back and forth between the two of them, like she's trying to work something out in her mind. "So... is she your... life partner, then?" 

 

Judy is surprised there isn't disdain dripping off Lorna's words, she just seems genuinely curious. Again, she opens her mouth to respond, "No-"

 

"Yes, actually," Jen speaks over Judy as she reaches and grabs her hand. "That's probably the best term I could use to explain what Judy is to me."

 

To say Judy is shocked is an understatement. She turns to look at Jen, but Jen just squeezes her hand and continues to address Lorna. "You should also know that I've made her the boys' legal guardian if something were to happen to me. But you will always be a part of their lives, Judy would make sure of that. And no- I'm not sick, my blood work came back perfectly normal, thank you for the recommendation," Jen smiles sweetly. 

 

Lorna looks as shocked as Judy feels, but manages to compose herself. "Well, the boys do seem to be attached to her... and I have always thought she was pretty."

 

Jen laughs, "Yes Lorna, that's the number one quality I look for in someone to help me raise my children- attractiveness," she finally looks at Judy, "She is, though."

 

Judy sees something new in Jen's eyes, and feels a blush spread across her cheeks in response. 

 

"I've seen the Ellen show. I like when she dances," Lorna chimes back in.

 

"Ohhhh-kay, I think it's time for us to go," Jen says as she stands up. 

 

When they get into the car, Judy feels a bit confused as Jen just laughs and slaps the steering wheel. "That was a fucking blast!"

 

Judy looks at her, then, quietly, "Jen, what was that?"

 

Jen levels a gaze right back at her, "What do you mean?"

 

"'Life partner'?" Judy feels foolish using air quotes, does it anyway. 

 

Jen smiles and shrugs, "Lorna's words, and yeah... I mean, what other phrase would you use to describe our relationship?"

 

Judy can't come up with a good answer for that. "I- I don't-"

 

"What's the problem? Do you have a better life partner prospect I don't know about? I'm a catch- I asked you to raise my kids, and I called you pretty," Jen teases. 

 

Judy smiles despite herself, but she can't quite place the feeling in her chest, the slight ache. "Of course not! But..."

 

"But what? You need more than that?!?" Jen's still teasing, but Judy's not laughing. 

 

Ah, that's what it is. The ache. It's there because, yes, she does need more than that. Judy squeezes her eyes shut, then looks back at Jen. "Yes," she says, simply.

 

Judy sees understanding in Jen's eyes, and something else- the look from before. She nods, her eyes grow serious. "You'll get it." 

 

Nothing else needs to be said. Judy believes her. She can be patient. 

 

They start sharing Jen's bed every night after that. There's no discussion about it, but Judy never wants to part from Jen at the end of the night, and the feeling seems to be reciprocated. Nothing else has happened, yet, but when they go to sleep, Judy holds Jen; in the morning, Jen immediately reaches for her when they wake. Judy knows how difficult physical intimacy is for Jen, and she'll never push her, even though she wants her so badly she can hardly stand it. This new closeness is perfect, and they have time. 

 

A few days later, Judy suggests they go car shopping for Charlie. Jen protests at first, but Judy won't have it. "I still have some money left, and he deserves it," she says, and Jen eventually agrees. 

 

It's kinda fun, car shopping, Judy has never done it before. The salesman is probably in his mid-fifties, mildly attractive, and his entire focus is on helping them find the perfect car. Well, most of his focus, anyway, because Judy can feel the way he's looking at her, which she doesn't enjoy, but she does enjoy the reaction Jen has to it. She's definitely noticed, and rolls her eyes at Judy every chance she gets.

 

"So," he segues as they are buckling into the SUV for a test drive, "this will be for your son, ma'am?" he directs the question at Jen. 

 

"Oh, no," Jen responds easily, "for OUR son," as she reaches and grabs Judy's hand, her words making Judy's heart soar (it won't ever get old hearing that, Judy knows).

 

"Ahhh," he laughs a little, "that's too bad!"

 

Jen doesn't even bother shooting him a glare or biting his head off, like Judy's expecting; she just barks out a smug laugh, "Ha, yeah! Too bad for you. Pretty great where I'm sitting."

 

Judy bites the inside of her cheek, feels herself blushing (God, she hasn't blushed so much since middle school. Jen has this effect on her now). 

 

As they drive off the lot, Judy feels pure happiness. She knows Jen is happy, too, and when Jen brings up a vacation, she can't help but flirt. 

 

"Oh, talk to me like lovers do!" (She knows Jen HATES the word "lover", who doesn't.)

 

"Ew!" But Jen laughs, so Judy keeps going, wants to hear her laugh as much as possible, craves it now. 

 

That's where the good memories end.

 

Next comes Jen's bloody face after they're hit, the relief she feels when Jen speaks, the panic when she passes back out and doesn't wake up again. The ride in the ambulance to the hospital that feels like the longest 20 minutes of her life, clutching Jen's hand for dear life the entire time. 

 

*

 

"Judy?" She hears her name from the doorway, it snaps her back to the present. It's Christopher, he picked up the boys and brought them to the hospital. Judy hadn't been able to get a hold of Lorna, which is probably for the best, her energy wouldn't be good for anyone right now. 

 

Judy wipes tears from her face as she stands up and walks toward Chris. He looks ghostly white, terrified. "It's okay," she says, trying to will herself to believe it.

 

"Judy!" Henry propels himself into her arms as she enters the hallway. "Are you okay?!" He looks so worried, and Charlie is standing a few feet away, but she can tell how scared he is, too. She has a few stitches and some bruising on her face, but that's all. 

 

"Where is Mom?" Charlie asks, firm. 

 

Judy takes a shaky breath. "I'm fine. Your mom... she got the brunt of the hit. There's some swelling in her brain, the doctor decided to place her in a medically induced coma to help. I know that sounds super scary, but it's for the best, it's so her body can get some rest and heal."

 

Henry's crying against her while Charlie looks like he's going to puke. "Will she be okay?" He looks at Judy, eyes pleading, 'please don't bullshit me'. 

 

Judy's shaking, "I can't say anything for sure. The doctor seemed very optimistic. I'll have him come talk to you, okay? Do you want to go sit with your mom and I'll go get him?"

 

She looks toward Chris, and he nods. "Let's go, boys," and heads toward the door to Jen's room. Henry squeezes Judy before letting go and she kisses his head, whispers,  "I love you. It's going to be okay."

 

"I love you, too," he mumbles, and Charlie puts his arm around him. Judy reaches for Charlie's other arm, squeezes, and he doesn't pull away- but when she says "I love you," he doesn't respond. Judy understands. She watches them go into the room, then goes to find the doctor. 

 

The boys seem to feel a bit better after speaking to Doctor Johnston, and after he assures them they should go get some rest, there won't be any change, Judy decides it would be best to take the boys home. Henry needs to use the bathroom before they leave, and Charlie goes with him.

 

Judy is in a daze when Christopher touches her arm. "Hey," he says, quietly as to not startle her, as if he knows how fragile she is. "Are you okay?"

 

She looks at him, fighting back tears, and shakes her head. She can't manage words at the moment. 

 

"I know this is hard. I know how... special your relationship with Jen is."

 

That surprises her. "Really? What has she said to you?"

 

He smiles, a bit sadly, "Oh nothing really. But you two have basically been a lesbian stereotype since the moment you met. I mean, she knew you for five minutes before asking you to move in," he nudges her with his shoulder, trying to lighten the mood.

 

Judy shakes her head, huffs out a forced laugh. "It wasn't like that," she says.

 

"'Wasn't'? Does that mean it is now?"

 

Judy pauses, not sure what to say. Jen is a very private person. "I... think we were heading there," she replies, wistfully, then feels something like a fissure in her heart. "Now we might not get the chance."

 

Chris puts his arm around her and gives her a squeeze. "Don't say that. Our girl? She's a fighter. And if I know anything, I know she loves those boys," he looks at her, "and she loves you. She's fighting to get back to you."

 

Judy wipes away more tears, "Thank you," squeezes him back, "I know she is."

 

He pulls away as the boys approach from the restroom. "She better be fighting to get back to me, too. She's going to be my maid of honor and I already picked out her and Adele's matching outfits." 

 

*

 

When they get home, Judy isn't sure what to do. For the second time in as many weeks, she is preparing for a possible life without Jen, one where she is living in their house and raising their boys without her. It feels impossible, but she has Charlie and Henry to think about, has purpose, and is determined to be strong for them. 

 

Charlie goes straight to his room, hasn't said much, but Judy gives him space. He's so much like his mother. She goes to Henry's room with him, reads to him, strokes his hair until he's all the way asleep. She hasn't even been out to the guest house in several days, but decides to go get some things so she can be in the main house permanently. Most of her essential items are already in Jen's room, but she grabs some clothes, and the wooden box from underneath her bed. After she gets changed and brushes her teeth, she curls up on Jen's side of the bed with the box. She needs to read the letter Jen wrote to her, needs to hear Jen's words in her head, needs the validation of her love and trust in her. 

 

Judy pops open the box, and her heart stops. The letter is gone, along with some of her weed. There's only one person who could have taken them, and she feels nauseous at the thought. She wants to lay down and cry, but knows she needs to deal with this, so she walks down the hall to Charlie's room, stops at the door. She can hear him moving around, he's still awake, so she knocks lightly. "Charlie?"

 

"Yeah?" He responds, annoyed, but definitely on the lower end of the spectrum of annoyed that she's ever heard him, so she'll take it, and pushes the door open. 

 

"Hey," she walks over and sits on his bed, where he's playing a game on his laptop, "can we talk a sec?"

 

"Oh sure, please, make yourself at home!" He closes his laptop and takes his headphones off.

 

"I shall!" She curls her legs up under her, tries to calm her racing heart. "I think you might have taken something of mine. Maybe a couple somethings?"

 

He snaps his eyes up to look at her. "Yeah, so?" He asks, challenging. 

 

Judy grimaces, but presses on, "Well, one of those things you should NOT be doing, and I at least hope you are doing it responsibly," she gives him a pointed look, "and the other thing.... that was very personal, between Jen and me. Do you have it? Did you read it?"

 

Charlie's eyes narrow, "I did read it. And I did have it, but I threw it away."

 

"Oh," Judy gasps, feels a rush of pain as she realizes she'll never see that letter again, that tangible evidence of her connection to Jen. "Okay. That's fair. Is there anything-"

 

Charlie cuts her off, "Did you have something to do with my dad's death?"

 

There it is. Judy squeezes her eyes shut, steels herself before looking back up at him, tears in her eyes. "I was driving the car. It was the worst moment of my life, the worst mistake, and you have no idea how sorry I am," she pauses, taking a shaky breath, "It's no excuse, but Steve wouldn't let me stop. I was so weak, I let him control me, and I'll regret it every second for the rest of my life." She reaches out to touch Charlie's arm and he snatches it away, the rage morphing his features reminding her of Jen. 

 

"Mom KNEW this?! And she FORGAVE you? Let you live in our home? Wanted YOU to be our legal guardian?" His voice is shaking.

 

"I know, it sounds crazy. It's extremely complicated and your mom and I have been through a lot together. She knew- knows. She knows how much I love you all, and I'd do anything for you," she's pleading with him to believe her. 

 

"And what was Mom talking about, confessing?" Charlie isn't calming down, "What happened to Steve?"

 

Judy feels sick, swallows the sudden lump in her throat. This she can't answer. "That's... also very complicated. It's a conversation you need to have with your mom."

 

Charlie laughs, bitterly. "Yeah! Let me just go up to the hospital and fucking ASK her!" He's yelling now, nearing hysterics.

 

"Shhh, Charlie, please, you don't want to wake up your brother-"

 

"No actually, I think I should wake him up. I need to get him and take him to Grandma's. It is absolutely INSANE for us to be here with YOU," he moves to stand up and Judy stops him, close to panicking now. What can she do? What would Jen want her to do?

 

Judy places her hand on his arm, firm, but soothing. "No," she says, unyielding. "Your mother wanted ME to be your guardian, and you are going to trust that she knows best." Charlie lowers his eyes, but doesn't pull away from her this time, and she can see tears rolling down his face. Her heart clenches. "You can be mad at me, and I truly hope you forgive me, but you're staying here. I love you. I love Henry. I will do everything I can to take care of you until she gets home, and we will all be here, together, when that happens."

 

Charlie looks up at her, and the look on his face shatters her heart. "What if she doesn't come home?" he chokes out. Judy pulls him into her arms and he leans into her as he breaks down, sobs wracking his body as she hugs him. "I can't lose her, too."

 

Judy holds him as he cries, her own tears falling onto his hair. "She will come home, Char," she assures him, assures herself. "You won't lose her."

 

Judy doesn't know how long they stay like that, but Charlie finally calms down, and she  leaves him to get some rest. She knows she will have to gain his trust, again, but feels like they at least have a fragile understanding. 

 

Judy crawls into bed, physically sore and emotionally exhausted. She grabs Jen's pillow and curls around it, breathing in deep, inhaling her scent. As she tries to slow her breathing and drift off to sleep, she repeats the parts of her letter she remembers, that she never wants to forget. "I'm so glad that we met. Thank you for loving me and our boys. I love you more than wine."

 

*

 

They fall into a routine over the next week, getting up early so Judy can take the boys to the hospital to see Jen before school. (They want to skip, but Judy knows Jen would want them to continue life as normal. She can't be a pushover.) Then Judy goes to work, back to the hospital, then home in time to make dinner. She's arranged with Lorna to pick the boys up from school every day and bring them home, and she's actually being surprisingly helpful and reliable. 

 

Doctor Johnston explains to Judy that the swelling in Jen's brain is improving, but they will probably keep her in the coma for the maximum of two weeks so she has the best opportunity for healing and complete recovery. Judy misses her, so, so much- even though she's constantly talking to her, telling her everything about the boys, how strong they're being, how brave. It's been a week, and Judy can't wait for the next week to pass.

 

One afternoon, Judy is at work when Angela flags her down. "Judy! Can I talk to you for a second?"

 

"Sure! What's up?" Judy follows her to her office, curious. "Is this about the pastels? I know we're over budget but they're really popular with the residents-"

 

"What?" Angela shakes her head as she sits down at her desk. "Oh, no. This is about something else. Look, I know this may not be the best timing with everything you're going through-"

 

"Thank you, for being so understanding about that, by the way," Judy interjects, sincerely. Angela has been great.

 

"No problem," she pauses, "I think I know the answer, but I have to bring it up  anyway. There's been an opening for a Director of Activities in our corporate office, and my boss asked if I knew of anyone to recommend for an interview. You've done some great work here, and I immediately thought of you."

 

Judy's jaw drops, surprised and flattered. "Wow," she exhales, "that's so nice of you to think of me, what an honor. But that would be moving to corporate-"

 

"In San Francisco, yes," Angela nods, "It would be a big promotion and raise. Your moving expenses would also be taken care of."

 

Judy doesn't know what to say. She feels so thankful, but she CAN'T leave. 

 

Angela senses her hesitation. "Look, I know you've been living with your friend and helping her out. I also know you, and know you'd want to see her healthy and back home before you commit to anything. There's no immediate rush, but they do want to start interviews in the next couple of weeks. You've earned this, Judy, and it would be a great opportunity for you. At least think about it."

 

Judy's nodding, Angela is making a lot of sense. It's a great opportunity, but she doesn't need to think about it. "Angela, I appreciate so much you thinking of me for this, I really do, but I can't move. Jen and the boys, they're my family. I'm happy here."

 

"You're sure?"

 

Judy nods. 

 

Angela smiles, lifts her hands up in defeat. "Okay, I at least had to try. Everyone here will be thrilled you're staying. It'd be tough to lose you."

 

*

 

Judy is making dinner in the kitchen one evening, waiting for Lorna to bring the boys home when she hears the doorbell. She wipes her hands off, goes to open the door and finds her neighbor's smiling face. "Karen, hi!"

 

"Hi, Judy!" Karen reaches out to give Judy an awkward hug. "I wanted to check in on you, see how you're doing."

 

"Oh, I'm hanging in there," Judy nods, "Just ready for Jen to come home."

 

"How is she doing? Has there been any change?"

 

"Thank you for asking Karen, that's so sweet. Her doctor said today her brain swelling and function is looking good, and she should be able to come out of the coma in a few more days," Judy grins, feeling great about the update. 

 

"That's wonderful! Oh I'm so happy. Can't wait to have my wine drinking buddy back!" 

 

"Sure, sure! I'm sure she'll be happy to see you, too."

 

"Okay, well I'll let you get back to it- oh, wait! There is something I wanted to ask your advice on. I want to document my experience getting back out there, trying to find love again after divorce," Karen starts.

 

"Uh huh, yeah, makes sense," Judy nods, wide-eyed. 

 

"So I need your opinion. Should I do a blog or a vlog? I enjoy writing, but I think my personality would come across much better in a vlog. What do you think?"

 

"Oh absolutely. Your personality would SHINE through the video medium," Judy says seriously. 

 

"Great! I've been brainstorming some names, do you want to hear them?!"

 

"Actually, Karen, I've got the oven preheating," she gestures into the house, "and I would hate to ruin the surprise!"

 

Karen smiles, "Of course! Well please keep me updated on Jen. Thanks Judy!"

 

Judy laughs to herself as she closes the door. She can't wait to come up with a drinking game with Jen for Karen's vlog.

 

*

 

It's two days until Doctor Johnston is set to bring Jen out of the coma when Judy's phone rings at work. Panic floods her body when she looks at her phone and sees it's the hospital calling. 

 

She quickly steps out of the art class she's teaching to answer it. "Hello?"

 

"Judy, hi, Dr. Johnston here-"

 

"Is Jen okay?!" Judy cuts him off, can't help herself, she feels like she's going to throw up and pass out at the same time.

 

"Yes, actually, she's doing very well. Her scans were so good, in fact, we decided to bring her out of the coma today. Can you get here?"

 

The panic in Judy's body is quickly replaced by joy. "Yes! I'm on my way!"

 

"The process could take some time, no need to rush."

 

"I'm on my way."

 

*

 

Once in the car, Judy calls Lorna to pick the boys up from school. Luckily, she's available. Judy is already close to the hospital, and can't bear the thought of Jen waking up alone. 

 

All Judy can think about as she drives is what she will say to Jen when she wakes up. If the last two weeks have taught her anything, it's that nothing is guaranteed. The promise of "more" for them is no longer enough, and all of her feelings for Jen are ready to burst out of her. Once she sees those eyes, those beautiful blue eyes who see her more clearly than anyone ever has, she knows she'll have to tell her. She'll kiss her and tell her she loves her, has loved her since the moment they met and always will.

 

Judy stops to speak to the doctor before she reaches Jen's room. He tells her Jen is slowly coming to and some confusion is to be expected. "You will have to be very patient with her, and she will probably have a lot of questions," he explains. 

 

"I've got nothing but time," she tells him with a smile. 

 

Judy sits down in the chair that has become her second home and grabs Jen's hand, squeezing lightly. She's stirring, and Judy feels as if she has butterflies with steel-tipped wings in her stomach. "I'm here, Jen," she whispers, and brings Jen's hand up to kiss her fingers gently. 

 

Jen's eyes open, and Judy can feel the tears threatening to spill out, the huge grin quickly overtaking her face as she kisses Jen's hand again. "Hi," she says, so soft, so happy. 

 

She sees confusion clouding Jen's eyes, and it quickly turns to a look of disgust as her gaze shifts to her hand at Judy's lips. She yanks her hand away. 

 

Her voice is raspy, but Judy can make out her words, and it's like a dagger to her heart.

 

"Who the fuck are you?"

Chapter Text

Judy can't breathe. 'This can't be happening,' she thinks, this kind of thing isn't real, only happens in soap operas and cheesy romantic comedies. But she can see in Jen's eyes that it's real; she is looking at a stranger. Judy swallows down the nausea she feels, tries speaking, "It's me, Jen. It's Judy." It comes out barely above a whisper.

 

"Yeah, not ringing any bells," Jen's voice is still scratchy, but tinged with anger, the kind Judy hasn't heard from her in so long. She scrambles to pour Jen some water from a pitcher on the bedside table, hands her the glass and Jen takes a huge gulp. "Why am I here? What happened to me?" she looks at Judy's face. "Same thing that happened to you?"

 

Judy nods, "We were in a car accident. A hit and run," she's speaking slowly, treading lightly, really not sure how to handle this.

 

"Another hit and run?!" Jen spits out. "Maybe the same person who killed my fucking husband that the police can't bother to find?!" She's getting more upset now, escalating, and Judy starts to reach out to calm her, hands itching with how much she needs to touch her, but then stops herself as it really starts to sink in. 

 

Jen doesn't know her.

 

Jen doesn't remember- she is the one who hit her husband.

 

Jen doesn't remember forgiving her.

 

She doesn't remember what they were, what they were becoming.

 

Judy is going to be sick. "I need to go get the doctor for you, he'll be able to explain everything," and in a move that goes against everything she really wants to do, to keep herself from pulling Jen into her arms and really freaking her the fuck out, she flees the room. As she shuts the door she leans back against it, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths, willing herself not to completely lose it. After a moment, she hears a worried voice break up the buzzing in her head.

 

"Judy?!" It's Charlie, heading toward her with Henry and Lorna in tow. He must be alarmed at the state she is in, sounds scared as hell, "What's wrong?!" 

 

Her eyes snap open, "It's okay," she assures him, looking at three pairs of worried eyes as they all stop in front of her. "She's awake. She's just a bit confused. I think it would do her good to see you two," she says as she puts a hand on each of Charlie and Henry's shoulders. She steps away from the door. "Go on in. I'm going to find the doctor to come talk to her." 

 

Charlie nods, and Henry hugs Judy quickly as he walks by. As soon as they're in the room, Judy shuts the door and leans against it again, feels like it's the only thing keeping her upright. She hears a cough and looks toward Lorna, honestly had forgotten she was there. "Is something wrong? You look troubled. Not good for your skin."

 

"Yeah, um," Judy doesn't know how to make her mouth form these words, "Jen seems to have some memory loss. She doesn't remember me," her voice breaks, she can't stop it. 

 

"What?" Lorna sounds as taken-aback as Judy's ever heard her, which is saying something, since "taken-aback" is pretty much her baseline. "So she doesn't remember your..." she pauses, clearly searching for a word, waving her hands around, "...coupling?"

 

Judy would laugh if her heart didn't hurt so much. "There wasn't a coupling," she says, regretfully. 

 

Luckily Doctor Johnston quickly approaches, saving Judy from any more awkward heart-to-heart with Lorna. He stops, asks, "She's awake?"

 

"Yes," Judy answers, "but she's forgotten a lot, and she's really angry."

 

"Well, that's normal for Jennifer," Lorna jumps in.

 

Judy can't help the glare she shoots her, "Actually, she'd been really happy before the wreck," she looks toward Doctor Johnston, desperate for some answers.

 

"What you're describing is very common in people recovering from traumatic brain injuries. They're confused, and angry, and it's normal to have some lapses in memory. The memories usually come back."

 

"Usually?" Judy's stomach sinks.

 

"Yes, sometimes bits and pieces of memories, or everything they've forgotten, there's no real rhyme or reason to it. Some research shows it's tied to the severity of the injury, and Mrs. Harding's injury was severe enough, it could take awhile, or she may never get them back at all," he pauses. "I'm sure she will have a lot of questions for you, and you should answer them, but try not to inundate her with TOO much information, especially if it could be upsetting to her."

 

"Okay," Judy whispers, trying to keep the tears at bay. Luckily there's not any upsetting tidbits of information she'll have to hide... shit. 

 

"Let's go in. I'll assess her and ask her some questions, the confusion could wear off quickly."

 

"Oh, I think I should stay out here-"

 

Lorna steps up, "You go in with him. I'll take the boys to get something to eat at the cafeteria. I'm sure the food is disgusting, but they'll eat anything." Judy looks at her, smiles gratefully; she keeps surprising her. 

 

"Okay." The three of them walk into the room, and Judy smiles at the sight of Charlie and Henry on either side of Jen, holding her hands. They look happy. 

 

"Mrs. Harding, hello, I'm Doctor Johnston, the neurosurgeon in charge of your care," he holds out a hand, and Jen lets go of Charlie's hand to shake his. "Hi boys!" he looks between the two of them, "Happy to see your mom awake?"

 

"Yes!" Henry exclaims as Charlie nods, "Thank you so much for making her better."

 

"Nice to meet you, Doctor Johnston, and I guess I should thank you, too," Jen says, her voice sounding closer to normal. She smiles at him, then her eyes move to Judy, then Lorna. "Hello, Lorna. Thank you for taking care of the boys while I've been here. That's very... kind of you."

 

"Oh no, Jennifer, I haven't been taking care of them. Judy has. You made her their legal guardian. It's a shame you don't remember such an important decision you made."

 

Jen's jaw drops as her eyes find Judy's again, mouth agape. Judy can tell she's searching for some recognition, finds none. 

 

"Yeah Mom, Judy's the best, she's been taking such good care of us. She cooks great food and has been taking me to Holy Harmonies practice-" Henry chatters excitedly. 

 

"Holy WHAT NOW?" Jen's shocked expression is now trained on Henry. 

 

Doctor Johnston interrupts, "Boys, are you hungry? Your grandmother mentioned taking you to get something to eat while I talk to your mother."

 

"Yeah, I'm starving," Charlie stands up, kisses Jen on the cheek. "We'll be back, Mom. I love you."

 

"Love you Mommy!" Henry launches himself to hug her. "I missed you so much."

 

Judy can see Jen fighting back her emotions, and it makes her misty-eyed, too. "I love you both so much."

 

They leave and shut the door as Judy takes her place in the chair by Jen's bed. She desperately wants to reach for her hand, stops herself. 

 

"So," Doctor Johnston starts as he steps toward Jen, shines a light in each of her eyes, "How are you feeling? Any pain?"

 

"No, not really... I just feel confused and tired, mostly, and apparently I've lost a good chunk of time. I don't know how much, though," she glances to Judy. "I guess you could help me with that?"

 

Judy opens her mouth to respond but the doctor speaks first. "First of all, you were in a car accident almost two weeks ago. You suffered blunt trauma which caused a traumatic brain injury with severe swelling. We placed you in a medically induced coma to foster healing, which worked. The swelling in your brain is gone and all of your brain functions are normal," he pauses, "but confusion and memory loss are common with this type of injury. What's the last memory you have?"

 

Jen leans her head back on the pillow and closes her eyes. "I remember my husband dying, and trying to get the police to find his killer... I don't know my last specific memory," she looks back at Judy, "I don't remember Judy, and it seems like she's a big part of my life."

 

Doctor Johnston shifts to Judy. "How long have you known each other?"

 

Judy looks at Jen, trying to apologize with her eyes even though she knows she's done nothing wrong; she also knows Jen won't want to hear this, "About a year."

 

Jen inhales sharply. "So... Ted has been dead... over a year?!"

 

Doctor Johnston places his hand on her arm. "I know this is shocking. Try to stay calm-"

 

Jen jerks her arm away from him. "Stay. Calm?" Her voice is low, angry. "I've lost a year of my life and you're telling me to stay calm?"

 

"Yes. I am. It's important for your healing, and this anger you're feeling, it's common, too. Your brain and body have been through a great deal. You need to give it some time to get back to normal."

 

Jen takes a deep breath, "I'm sorry. You're right. This is so frustrating," a tear trickles down her cheek and Judy can't stand it, longs to wipe it away, feels the tears she's been holding back fall from her eyes, too.

 

"You have nothing to apologize for. Just so you know, you have a very supportive friend here. Judy has been here multiple times a day, every day, and I don't want to overstep but I can attest that your boys have been very well taken care of. They've been here every day as well. You may have a long road ahead of you, but you're surrounded by a loving family and that's a huge benefit." 

 

Jen wipes the tears from her face and nods, "Thank you, doctor."

 

"I'll give you some time, but a nurse will be by in a little while to take you for some more brain scans. We will continue monitoring you, and if your scans are still good in a day or two, you can go home." 

 

"Thank you, Doctor Johnston," Judy says as he leaves. 

 

Judy feels nervous as soon as they're alone, doesn't know how to act. Obviously confessing her undying love and kissing Jen breathless are wholly inappropriate right now, yet that's all she's been thinking about doing for weeks. This is torture. 

 

Jen looks at her, gives her a tentative smile, and Judy will take it. It's the first time she's looked at her with something other than apprehension, although that's probably still there, too. "So... apparently you're my best friend? And according o Charlie and Henry you live in our guest house? And according to Lorna I made you the boys' legal guardian?" 

 

Judy nods, smiles reassuringly, tries to focus on the fact that she's getting to have a conversation with Jen, and not what's missing. "Yep, guilty on all counts."

 

Jen puffs her cheeks out, exhales loudly, "Wow. That's a lot to process," she pauses to study Judy's face again. "We must be really close, and for me not to remember you... you must feel like shit. I'm sorry."

 

The sentiment is so generous, so Jen, and Judy loves her so much for it. She shakes her head. "It's okay. It's not your fault... and I'm just so thankful you're awake. I've missed you SO much."

 

"Well, I'm sure I've missed you too," Jen says a bit awkwardly.

 

"Can I ask you something weird?"

 

"Okay."

 

"Can I give you a hug? Please?"

 

Jen nods, and Judy's body is flooded with relief. She needs this. She stands up, bends down to wrap her arms around Jen, gives her a squeeze but is careful not to be too intimate- doesn't bury her face in her neck like she wants to. She can't help but inhale a little, takes in the moment and appreciates it, pushes away thoughts of the difficult questions she's going to have to answer. She pulls back, sits back down. "Thank you," feels her whole face light up with happiness. 

 

Jen gives her another small smile, then her face changes. "Can I ask you a question?"

 

Judy takes a breath, 'here we go', "Sure."

 

"Have the police found who killed Ted yet?"

 

Ice fills Judy's veins. She's not prepared for this. She shakes her head. "No. They haven't arrested anyone yet," feels sick having to lie, thought she was done lying to Jen forever.

 

Jen opens her mouth to respond, but the boys and Lorna barge back into the room, and Judy breathes a sigh of relief. 

 

Maybe Jen's memories will come back before Judy has to explain about Ted... about Steve. She's earned some good karma, hasn't she? 

 

*

 

Two days and a clean bill of health later, Jen is discharged from the hospital. Judy can't wait to get her home; Doctor Johnston said getting back into a normal routine will be good for her. It's been tough these couple of days, Judy can tell Jen just doesn't trust her. She is trying so hard not to take it personally, but it's heartbreaking to lose the trust she's so painstakingly built. It's starting at square zero, when they were on the precipice of something so wonderful Judy could nearly taste it- she can't let herself think about it. (It's impossible not to.)

 

When they get home, Judy helps get Jen and her things upstairs to her bedroom. Jen looks around, "Huh," she says. "It looks different." She picks up one of Judy's kimonos that's on the bed. "Did my fashion sense completely change over the last year, too? I'm a geisha now?"

 

Judy laughs, takes the kimono from Jen's hand. "No. That's mine."

 

Jen looks at her, accusatory, "Did you move in to my room?"

 

Judy feels the blood rush to her face immediately, "Just since you were at the hospital. I wanted to be closer to the boys, in case they needed me."

 

"Oh," Jen seems to calm. "Of course. I'm sorry. Fuck, that was so bitchy."

 

"It's okay," Judy assures her. "I'll just... get all my things back out to the guest house. Give you some time to rest." It's killing her not to tell Jen the whole truth, but what can she say? 'Actually, I was pretty much moved in here before. We cuddled every night, I don't know how to sleep without you now, I'm going insane with how much I want you!' ???

 

Judy takes deep breaths. In and out. Tells herself to give Jen time. This won't last forever. 

 

Judy makes her vegetarian lasagna that night, Jen's favorite. They have a nice family dinner, although Jen's mood seems to have soured a bit; Judy feels like towards her, specifically. Judy sits back and lets the boys and Jen catch up, they're filling her in on everything they can think of, school and friends and yes, Holy Harmonies. 

 

"It's a super awesome Christian rock group, we sing and dance and it's so much fun. Christopher convinced you to let me join, he directs it-" Henry is in his element filling Jen in on his new passion. 

 

"Yeah, I talked to him earlier, he called me."

 

"Oh, good!" Judy says. "Is he going to come see you soon? He's been so worried."

 

Jen lets out a bitter laugh, "That's hard to believe, considering he dumped me and I don't have a business partner any more," she glances at Judy, "Would have been nice to have a heads up about that."

 

Shit.

 

"I'm so sorry, Jen, I didn't think about it-"

 

"Anything else I need to know about?" Her anger makes Judy flinch. 

 

A million images flash through Judy's mind.

 

The thump of Ted hitting her car.

 

Bambi.

 

Steve's dead body in the freezer.

 

Burying that dead body.

 

The look on Jen's face when she promised her, "You'll get it."

 

The feeling of Jen's arms reaching out for her in the morning. 

 

"Nothing comes to mind right now," she lies through her teeth. 

 

Judy takes a sip of her wine, looks down at her glass as her racing heartbeat slows, but feels someone's eyes on her. She looks up and Charlie is staring at her, pointedly. 

 

Double shit.

 

After dinner is cleaned up, Jen is getting Henry tucked into bed, so Judy decides to go talk to Charlie. She can't believe she hasn't thought to talk to him since Jen woke up, it's been such a whirlwind, and she feels terrible at what he must be going through. She knocks quietly at his door, "Charlie? Can I come in?"

 

"I know you're going to anyway!" He calls in response. She does, and he's sitting on his bed, playing on his cell phone. Judy moves to sit by him and he puts his phone down.

 

"I'm sorry I haven't really checked in with you since your mom woke up. Are you doing okay? I know it's tough. I know there are things you wanted to talk to her about that you can't really now..."

 

He nods, "Yeah, I'm fine but it does kinda suck. I'm just glad she's home... it's weird, though. She doesn't remember you at all? So she doesn't remember... anything about you?"

 

Judy shakes her head. "No. And I know, Charlie, it seems like I'm off the hook but I swear I'm not. This is worse, I feel like I'm lying to her again and I swore I never would. But this is about letting her get better, and hopefully her memories come back on their own and we can get back to normal. I can't overwhelm her with everything that's happened, it's too much."

 

Charlie's nodding and she can tell he gets it; her heart swells with how proud she is of him. 

 

"It must be hard for you," he says, regarding Judy seriously. "I know how much you love her."

 

Her eyes widen when she realizes he does know. She nods, doesn't think words are needed.

 

Charlie looks down at his hands, "Look, I know we haven't always gotten along," he looks up at her and smiles, "which is my fault, you'd probably get along with Hitler-"

 

"Hey!" Judy laughs, cuts him off. "A), I'm super proud of you for paying attention in history class, and B), even I have standards. Stalin, maybe, but definitely not Hitler."

 

Charlie laughs, "But, seriously. I can't say I've totally forgiven you for dad... but Mom needs you. She may not realize it but she does." Judy feels tears spring to her eyes at Charlie's words, "Please don't give up on her."

 

Judy reaches out and gives his hand a squeeze, "Never."

 

She tells Charlie goodnight and heads downstairs, Jen following a couple minutes later after leaving Henry's room. Judy holds up a bottle of wine and two glasses, "If you're not too tired, could we go out to the backyard for a bit?"

 

"Sure," Jen nods, although Judy can tell the familiarity of it is lost on her. "Sleep hasn't been coming easily anyway, and Doctor Johnston said an occasional glass of wine wouldn't hurt."

 

Judy sits down first, in her spot, leaving Jen to settle into hers. Judy fans a blanket over both their legs, then turns on the TV and flips to the right channel. "This was what we did when we first started hanging out, and it kinda became our routine- watching 'The Facts of Life'."

 

"Really?" Jen asks as she takes a sip of her wine. "I haven't watched this show in decades... or at least thought I hadn't."

 

Judy grins, "You got really mad at me when I called you a Blair."

 

"Psssh well fuck yeah I did! And I stayed friends with you after that insult?!" She looks to Judy and smiles, then something passes over her face. "Hey, I've been so focused on myself and everything with Ted that I haven't even asked you- how did we meet?"

 

"We met at a grief support group," Judy smiles, remembering. 

 

"Wow..." Judy can tell the wheels are turning in Jen's head. "I remember seeing a flyer for one. I must have gotten really desperate," she laughs a little, then grows serious, "What loss were you grieving?"

 

This is a do-over Judy's happy to have. "My fiance had just broken up with me after my fifth miscarriage."

 

Jen's face changes, sadness and empathy in her eyes, and she puts her hand on Judy's arm and squeezes. "Fuck, that's awful. I'm so sorry. What an ass hole."

 

Judy smiles appreciatively, "Thanks. I've moved past it. I have you guys now."

 

Jen smiles at her, but Judy can see a little disbelief behind it, still. She pushes down the hurt, tells herself, again, to be patient.

 

They watch an episode, chat a little bit, and Judy just lets herself enjoy being in Jen's company.

 

When Jen says goodnight and heads to the house, leaving Judy to the lonely walk to the guest house, a piece of her heart goes with her.

 

*

 

Judy is making dinner a couple of nights later while Jen sits at the island with Henry, helping him with his homework. "What the fuck with new math?" She hears Jen mumble, and smiles to herself. It feels like some normalcy is slowly creeping back into their lives. There's a knock at the door, and Jen gets up to get it. Judy follows closely behind, per usual, and ignores the weird look Jen gives her. 

 

It's Karen, wearing a big smile and holding a bottle of wine. "Jen!" She leans in for a hug and Jen leans back a bit, pats Karen's shoulder awkwardly, reluctantly. "I'm so glad you're home. How are you feeling? I brought you some orange wine, I was sure you'd been missing it!"

 

Judy feels awful she hasn't warned Karen. She glances at Jen, who is just looking between Karen and the bottle of wine she's holding out, trying to piece it all together. Judy reaches out and grabs the wine. "That's so thoughtful Karen, thanks!" And gives her a sweet smile. "Jen is-"

 

"Jen is trying to catch up on all the new friends she's made," Jen cuts in. "The old noggin isn't working so great since the accident, and I apparently don't remember my metamorphosis into social butterfly. I definitely don't remember drinking something called 'orange wine'."

 

Karen's face falls, "So you don't remember us hanging out?"

 

"She doesn't remember me, either," Judy says, trying to make Karen feel better. 

 

Karen's eyes widen. "Really? That's terrible-"

 

"Yeah, yeah, it's truly awful," Jen's agitated now, "Thank you for coming by, Karen, and for the truly disgusting sounding wine, but is there anything else you needed?"

 

Karen turns her focus to Judy, "Well, I wanted to tell you that my vlog will be premiering tomorrow night, hope you can tune in."

 

Judy smiles, "Ohhh, exciting! What name did you end up going with?"

 

"'How Karen Got her Groove Back'! What do you think?!"

 

"Perfect! So funny, I love that movie!" Judy says.

 

"Oh, how hilarious and current. Topical," Jen deadpans at the same time. 

 

Karen looks to Jen, "I was telling Judy before, it's going to be about my dating journey after the divorce- oh, did you remember Jeff and I got divorced?"

 

"Funnily enough, that tidbit of information didn't survive, either," Jen moves to shut the door, "But we'll be sure to tune in to your vlog. Whatever that means."

 

Judy nods, "Yes, I can't wait to see it!" She actually means it, hopes she can get Jen to join her, it could bring them some much needed laughter. 

 

A big smile breaks out on Karen's face. "Great! I hope you feel better, Jen. Maybe the wine will help jog some memories!" She turns around to leave. 

 

"I'm sure that will do the trick," Jen mutters. 

 

"Wait," Karen turns back around. "Does this mean you don't remember my Mexican lasagna?"

 

Jen shuts the door in her face.

 

Judy can sense Jen's frustration as they walk back to the kitchen, her heart is aching for her, can't imagine how she's feeling, just wants to help. She can't stop herself from reaching out and rubbing Jen's back a bit, she flinches a little but doesn't pull away. "Are you okay?" 

 

Jen lets out a huff. "I just feel like a fucking crazy person," she says at she sits back down next to Henry, "and like I don't even know who I am. I became friends with Karen?!"

 

"Karen's nice!" Henry chimes in, then shuts his math book before heading to the couch and turning on the TV. 

 

"Well," Judy says, "it was more of a reluctant acquaintance-ship than friendship, but you did spend some time together." 

 

"Okay... and Karen and Jeff got a divorce? What happened there? Irreconcilable boredom?"

 

"That's actually kind of a funny story," Judy laughs, "you and I ran into Jeff and his boyfriend at a hotel in Antelope Valley."

 

Jen's eyebrows shoot up at that, and she smirks, "His boyfriend, scandalous! Poor Karen!" The gossip seems to have taken Jen's mind off her own problems, for a second, and Judy breathes a bit easier in that moment. "What were we doing in Antelope Valley?"

 

Judy's chest tightens again. "Um," how had she not thought about this question? "Just a girls' trip," she smiles weakly. 

 

"Oh," Jen sounds surprised, but smiles. "Kind of a weird place for a girls' trip. Hope we had fun. "

 

"They had a good spa package," Judy explains quickly, "and we did crash a wedding." Judy closes her eyes for a moment and focuses on the good memories- the drinking, the dancing, Jen asking her to be her "person". 

 

She opens her eyes and looks into Jen's. "We did have fun."

 

Jen grins, "Probably not as much fun as Jeff, though."

 

Judy laughs, feels like it's HER Jen she's talking to, "No, unfortunately not," waggles her eyebrows, "But we could!" (Oh, how much she means it, how much she aches for it.)

 

"You're a weird person, Judy," Jen laughs.

 

"So I've been told."

 

*

 

The next evening Judy gets home to a quiet house after a late night at work, Jen and the boys nowhere in sight. She's hoping to convince Jen to watch Karen's vlog with her, with orange wine of course, so goes up to Jen's room and knocks on the door. She actually waits for a response, going against her urge to barge right in. 

 

"Come in," Jen says, so she does. Jen is sitting on her bed, working on her laptop, and Judy thinks about how hot she looks with her glasses on. Tries to banish the thought, because it's not one she feels she has the right to any more.

 

"Hey," she says, quietly, trying not to be too disruptive, always trying so hard, now. "Where are the boys?"

 

"They're with Lorna. She wanted to take them to dinner and a movie, and I'm trying to get back in the swing of things with work," Jen finally looks up at her, gives her a small smile Judy can tell she doesn't really mean. At least she's trying, though. 

 

"Gotcha. How was your day?" She steps a bit closer to the bed, still doesn't sit down.

 

Jen takes her glasses off, closes her laptop. "Pretty good, actually. I finally got a hold of someone at the police department, who told me Detective Perez classified Ted's case as 'inactive' for some reason, but then she left the force. I'm on their asses to open it again, and they gave me her cell phone number, so better believe tomorrow I'm going to call her to see why the fuck she would classify an unsolved case as 'inactive'."

 

Judy feels all of the air leave her lungs suddenly, takes a shaky breath as the reality of what she has to do hits her. 'This is it,' she thinks, the jig is up. She has to confess- again. She has to make Jen hate her- again. There's no more time to hope that Jen will remember everything, remember forgiving her, loving her. Jen needs to hear what happened to Ted from her, not from Perez. Perez doesn't owe her any favors, she would tell Jen the truth of what she knows. 

 

Judy tentatively sits on the edge of the bed. How does she start? This feels even more impossible than it did the first time. "I have to tell you something," she swallows as she looks at Jen, begging with her eyes for Jen to see HER, the Judy she KNOWS, somewhere in there. "I know this is so frustrating for you, but this is something I've actually already told you. It's going to be hard for you to believe, but it's something you've already forgiven me for, and I have to hope you can forgive me again," she pauses, trying to keep her emotions in check, and Jen's gaze becomes wary, irritated.

 

"What is it? Could you please just tell me?" Her eyes narrow, piercing into Judy's. "Do you know something about Ted's death?"

 

She has to just spit it out, can't beat around the bush, can't stand it anymore. "I was driving the car that hit him."

 

The look on Jen's face is even worse than the image she's had burned in her brain for the last few months. "What?" The quiet, acidic response speaks volumes. 

 

"It was such a terrible accident- I've been trying to atone for it every single day and-"

 

"Hold on," Jen holds up a hand, closes her eyes, disbelieving, "You killed my husband, then you moved in with me, got me to give you custody of my FUCKING kids, you're saying I KNEW this and FORGAVE you?!"

 

"Yes, Jen, I know it sounds crazy but I swear-"

 

"I've been recovering from a traumatic brain injury, trying to believe this STRANGER living in my house is helping me, cares about me and my kids, and this truth has been there the whole time?! What kind of fucked up person does that? Are you really that desperate for love? Can't get your own family? I mean I'm not surprised, who could love a person like YOU?" Her voice is shaking with rage. 

 

Judy has never seen her so angry. Even before, when Jen was angry at her, she could tell there was still love there, somewhere. It's gone now. Judy would give anything to get it back.

 

"You don't mean it. I know you don't mean it," Judy is shaking her head as tears stream down her cheeks. She's desperate, tries to remember her letter, remember the truth of how Jen once felt about her. 

 

"I'm so glad that we met."

 

"I do. I absolutely mean it."

 

"I love you more than wine."

 

Jen continues, "I don't know what power you had over me, but it's gone now. Get the fuck out of my house. I never want to see you again."

 

"Thank you for loving me and our boys."

 

Judy's heart is shattering, and her brain is screaming at her, 'STEVE! Tell her it was Steve's fault!', but how? Jen doesn't even remember Steve existed. And suddenly it's so clear to Judy. 

 

Jen HATES her, but Jen will get over hating a stranger. She can heal quickly from that, move on with her life. She never has to know about Steve, never has to carry the burden of knowing she killed a man. Judy loves her enough to carry that burden for her- to carry all of their burdens, forever. 

 

So she stops trying to hold on so tightly; it's pointless, anyway. She lets go.

 

Judy looks at Jen through her tears, studying her face, so beautiful even though it's contorted with rage and hatred. She still wants to memorize every detail. The deep pools of her eyes. The slight upturn of her nose. The smattering of freckles visible when her face is clean of makeup. The lips she'll never get to kiss. The smile that seemed to be only for Judy- that's a distant memory now.  After several moments, she nods, once. "Okay."

 

She walks to the door and before she leaves turns back to Jen. Jen isn't looking at her, has her head in her hands, but Judy has to say it. It's clawing its way out of her and she doesn't care that she won't get a response. 

 

"I love you, Jen. I love you so much. Thank you for everything. I know you don't remember us, but I'll never forget."

 

Jen doesn't look up, and Judy walks out the door. She feels as though she's leaving her heart in that room.

 

*

 

As she walks into the guest house, Judy doesn't have any tears left to cry. She feels numb as she pulls out her cell phone and scrolls to the number she wants to dial, can barely feel her arm as she holds the phone up to ear.

 

"Angela? Hi. It's Judy," she pauses, takes a deep breath. "Is the job in San Francisco still available?"

Chapter Text

The pulsating vibrations of music; soul-crushing grief.

 

The ocean breeze; happiness.

 

The weight of something small and heavy in her hand; all encompassing rage. 

 

The weight of a person in her arms; contentment. 

 

*

 

Jen's sleep, what little of it she's getting since she's been home from the hospital, is restless. She's having dreams every night; at first all that she can register are feelings- so many, such a wide spectrum, that it's overwhelming.

 

Then they become images that she can only assume are flashes of memories; her brain is trying to catch back up, but so far, nothing has stayed with her to analyze when she wakes. The only thing that truly sticks with her is a feeling she can best describe as dread.

 

And every morning, she wakes up and reaches out, searching for... something. It's confusing, because Ted wasn't even sleeping in their bed for months before he died, so she doesn't understand who she's reaching for. All she knows is she feels a deep yearning for a comforting warmth; a warmth she doesn't even know the source of.

 

She's so tired. She remembers the shape she was in after Ted's death; it's the last thing she remembers, really, but this is worse. It's like she took a long nap, woke up, and her exhaustion, anger, and sadness have increased a hundredfold. 

 

The worst she's felt so far is the morning after Judy confesses, after she kicks her out. After she learns the stranger she's been living with, who she's been told is her best friend, been trying to trust, is the person who hit her husband and left him on the side of the road to die. 

 

The anger and sadness Jen's feeling this particular morning has a sense of deja vu to it; but it's not something she can give much thought to. She's more concerned that the sociopath is no longer in her house.

 

She looks at the clock and realizes she needs to get the boys to school, so she drags herself out of bed. She doesn't hear the normal sounds that have been a constant in the morning since she's been back- the sounds of Judy cooking breakfast. Jen doesn't understand the twinge she feels in her chest at the thought; it should be relief, and she tells herself that it is.

 

When Jen gets downstairs, she can see Charlie and Henry sitting at the island, eating cereal. "Good morning, boys!" She tries to be upbeat (fake it until you make it, right?), but she knows it sounds wrong. She's immediately unconcerned with that, however, as soon as she sees that Henry's crying. "Boop, what's wrong?!" She grabs him and pulls him into a hug, looking at Charlie questioningly, and as she meets his eyes, can tell he's upset, too. This was common lately, she reminds herself, except it's not "lately"... Ted's been dead over a year.

 

"Judy's gone," Henry cries against her. 

 

Oh.

 

Fuck. She didn't even think about how attached the boys could be to Judy- couldn't be THAT attached, right? 'Except you made her their legal guardian!' She thinks, and feels guilty for a moment. Then she reminds herself, Judy doesn't deserve her love, or the boys', after what she did. Jen's been silent for too long, should be saying something comforting, but what?!

 

"Henry, we have to be happy for her," Charlie speaks up, and Jen's eyes snap to him in surprise. "She told us, her new job in San Francisco is a big promotion for her, and she'll be able to help a lot more people. You know how much Judy cares about helping people." He's looking at Jen, and she's in shock; in shock at how much her boy has matured in no time at all to her, and she wonders what all has happened to cause it. There's also something in his eyes; something that tells her- he knows a job isn't really why Judy left. 

 

"But Judy cares about us!"

 

Jen finds her voice, "Of course she does, and I'm sure she always will. These things happen, it's what being a grown-up is about. Some day you'll understand."

 

"That's what Judy said, too," Henry says as he pulls away from Jen and wipes his eyes, "but I won't. You wouldn't, if you hadn't lost your memories. You wouldn't let her leave." 

 

Jen swallows the sudden lump in her throat, blinks back the tears filling her eyes. "It'll be okay, boop," is all she can say.

 

"Come on, Henry, let's go get our backpacks. We gotta get to school," Charlie stands up and puts his arm around Henry's shoulders, leading him upstairs. 

 

Jen makes herself a cup of coffee, and the boys come down a few minutes later, ready to go. Henry seems to have pulled it together, and Jen is thankful for that. She can't stand him being upset, especially if it's somehow her fault. They pile into the car and the drive is silent. Jen feels like a fucking failure of a mother, doesn't even know how to talk to her own sons now. Feels like she doesn't know who they are, who she is, (who anyone is, really) since she's woken up. She pulls up to Henry's school, and he moves to get out of the car. "Have a great day, boop! I love you," she says, fake upbeat again.

 

Henry turns to look at her, smiles, but she can tell he's faking it, too, for her sake, and it breaks her heart. "I love you too, Mommy."

 

She's now in a constant state of swallowing back emotion, feels like an endless fucking well of it, and Charlie's gentle voice brings on another swell as she drives off, "Mom? Are you okay?"

 

Jen glances at him, he keeps surprising her- Charlie has been the one good surprise in all of this. "I'm okay. I'll be okay. Are you okay?" 

 

Charlie nods, "Yeah. I'm just worried about you," he pauses, and she can tell he's working through something in his head, trying to decide what to say. "I know how complicated things have been. I know there's a lot you don't remember. But you can depend on me. You can talk to me about shi- stuff. Okay?"

 

Jen feels a surge of pride and thinks she must have done something right over the past several months. She reaches over and grabs his hand. "Thanks, Char."

 

*

 

On her way home, Jen has to slam on her brakes when a brand-new stop sign jumps out at her. "Fuck!" She yells. Driving hasn't made her nervous so far, since she doesn't remember the wreck, but for some reason her heart is pounding, and she realizes she hasn't actually asked anyone the details of the wreck. But as she sits there, trying to calm her breathing, what seems to be a memory comes back to her. She's sitting at this stop sign, looking to her right at a smiling, radiant Judy; they're talking, she's not sure about what. Jen just remembers how she felt, and the rush of happiness takes her breath away for a moment. Then, a flash- of stepping on the gas, a loud crash, pain, then darkness. 

 

She thinks this is where it happened

 

Luckily no one is behind her, because it takes a couple of minutes before she can continue her drive.

 

*

 

When she gets home, inexplicably humming "Escape" by Rupert Holmes, Jen makes herself another cup of coffee and tries to focus. Shakes off the confusion and sadness, leans into the anger. No matter what's transpired in her friendship with Judy, the fact is, Judy mowed down her husband and has faced no repercussions for it. The new detective she'd spoken to couldn't explain why Ted's case was inactive, and Jen was going to the source to find out. She pulls out the piece of paper with "Detective Perez" written at the top, and dials the number on it.

 

"Hello?" 

 

"Hi, is this Detective Perez?"

 

There's a brief silence. "This is Ana Perez, no longer Detective. Who is this?"

 

"This is Jennifer Harding. My husband Ted was killed in a hit and run?"

 

Another silence, and now Detect- Ana's voice is tinged with confusion. "Yes, Mrs. Harding, I knew I recognized your voice. To what do I owe the pleasure? You do know I left the police force soon after our little trek into the woods?"

 

"Trek into the woods? What the fuck are you talking about?"

 

This time, the silence is long. 

 

"Look," Jen breaks it, "I just need to know why the fuck you closed my husband's case without it being solved. I solved it, by the way, I know who did it, so you're welcome."

 

Perez lets out something akin to a laugh, "Is that so? Who?"

 

"Her name is Judy Hale," Jen spits it out like it's poison. 

 

"Oh Jesus Joseph Christ," Perez mutters. "What is going on? I heard about your car accident before I left, last I heard they hadn't found the culprit- were you severely injured?"

 

"I was in a coma for two weeks and seem to have lost a good chunk of memories, yes," Jen confirms, not understanding why her health is suddenly the topic of discussion. 

 

Perez sighs, "Can I buy you a drink? I think I'm going to need alcohol for this conversation."

 

It's the absolute last thing Jen expects, but she finds herself agreeing. Somehow she thinks the former Detective will be able to fill in some blanks for her.

 

After feeding the boys pizza that evening and Charlie assuring her they'd be fine alone, Jen drives across town to meet Perez at a bar she chose. She walks in, sees Perez waving at her from a table in the corner, walks over and slides in the booth across from her.

 

"Hi," she says, awkwardly, suddenly feeling like there is a lot of history between her and this person she only vaguely remembers yelling at about Ted's case a few times.

 

"Hello, Mrs. Harding," Perez greets her, as she takes a sip of her beer. 

 

"Jen. Call me Jen. And what should I call you?"

 

Perez regards her seriously for a moment. "Ana."

 

Just then, a waitress approaches, asking for Jen's drink order. "I'll have what she's having," she says, pointing at Ana's drink.

 

When she leaves, Ana dives right in. "So, Jen, why don't you walk me through exactly what's going on, what you remember? I'm guessing Ms. Hale no longer lives with you, if you're attempting to turn her in for your husband's hit and run again?" 

 

"Again?" Jen is taken aback by that, then shakes her head. "Look, I woke up and I didn't remember Judy at all. I was told she's my best friend and I'd invited her to live with me and my sons. Last night, she confessed to me that she hit Ted, and I kicked her out of my house."

 

Ana's eyes have widened more and more the whole time Jen's been speaking, and when she pauses, Ana asks, sarcastically, "Who will lead the search party for bay leaves now?"

 

"Huh?" Jen's lost.

 

"Nevermind. Bad joke," Ana says quickly. "Look, I don't know how much Ms. Hale told you- but she confessed to you, several months ago, and you attempted to turn her in then as well. You also asked for a restraining order against her. When I showed up at your house a few days later with the restraining order, she was there with you. You told me that she'd changed her story, that it was actually Steve Wood driving the car that hit Mr. Harding."

 

"Steve Wood? Who's Steve Wood?" Jen's head is spinning. 

 

"Ms. Hale didn't mention him?"

 

"No," Jen says, "but to be fair, I didn't give her much of a chance to talk or explain anything about what happened. I just kind of... lost it."

 

"Steve Wood was her fiance-"

 

"Wait... the one who left her after five miscarriages?"

 

A look of sadness passes over Ana's face, but it's gone quickly. "I didn't know about that but, I'm guessing so."

 

"So HE was driving the car that night? Why wouldn't she tell me that?"

 

"I can't say for sure what happened that night, other than we believe the car that hit your husband was owned by Steve Wood. I'm only telling you what you told me. YOU seemed to believe he was the one driving the car, and you seemed to have forgiven Ms. Hale." 

 

"What do you mean? What did I say to you?"

 

"I believe the exact phrase you used to describe her was 'a fucking angel on Earth' and something about her 'always seeing the good in people'," she pauses, "Jen, I don't know you very well, but I know you care for her. Even after she confessed to you the first time. Which was totally batshit insane to me, but it's the truth."

 

Jen is nodding, then downing the beer that was placed in front of her, trying to reconcile what she's being told with the anger she's felt since the night before. 

 

Ana speaks again, "I just have to clarify- Ms. Hale didn't tell you... anything about Mr. Wood? Didn't mention him at all?" 

 

"No," Jen shakes her head, "and I don't understand why... even thought I freaked out pretty quick, you'd think she would tell me if he's the one who hit Ted."

 

A look of realization comes over Ana's face, but she doesn't say anything. 

 

"What?" Jen asks, desperate for answers.

 

"I'm not sure," Ana shakes her head slowly, "but I think I may have underestimated Ms. Hale this entire time." She says it like a compliment, and Jen can tell she isn't quick to dole those out. 

 

"Okay... well, what can you tell me about Steve Wood? Can I contact him?"

 

Ana coughs, takes a large sip of her beer, "Mr. Wood is actually deceased," she says, evenly.

 

"What?!" 

 

"He was involved with the Greek mafia, and the Chief of Police is in prison now based on his own involvement with the case. Huge conspiracy. Mr. Wood was found murdered."

 

Jen feels sick to her stomach; the dread she's been feeling is ramping up. "Who murdered him?"

 

Ana meets her eyes, "Presumably someone involved with the Greek mafia," she pauses, as though she's choosing her words very carefully, "Jen, for your sake and for the sake of your children... this is a thread you don't want to pull."

 

Even though she wants to object, wants to go off on the fact that someone needs to pay for her husband's death, something in Ana's words sends a shiver down her spine, and she just nods.

 

She also has a feeling someone may have already paid the price, anyway.

 

*

 

The house is dark and quiet when Jen gets home just after 9:00. She walks upstairs to Charlie's room, knocks on the door. "Come in," she hears him say. She walks in, sits by him on the bed where he's playing a game on his laptop. "Whatcha playing?"

 

"Wrath of Hades, I used to play it with Dad all the time," he replies, then shuts the laptop and takes his headphones off.

 

"Cool, cool..." Jen's momentarily distracted as something nags at her, a memory, but it's gone before she can pin it down. "How was the evening with Henry?"

 

Charlie meets her eyes, she sees seriousness there, still not something she's used to seeing from him. "Mom, Henry and Judy are really close. It's going to take him some time to get over it."

 

Jen feels a pull in her chest. "What about you?"

 

He takes a deep breath, and she can see he's conflicted. "Yeah, I'll actually miss her, too. But I'll be fine. I just want you to feel better."

 

"I feel fine," she says, quickly, wanting to reassure him.

 

He narrows his eyes at her. "Sure, okay, yeah. Just pretend everything's fucking peachy."

 

Jen huffs out a laugh, sighs. "Okay, smart ass. I'm working on it."

 

He gives her a half grin, reaches for his laptop again. "Good night, Mom."

 

"Okay, I can take a hint. Night, Char."

 

Jen closes his door softly and makes her way to Henry's room, pushes open the cracked door. He's sleeping, and she goes to sit on his bed, strokes his hair. He looks so peaceful, and that's all she wants for him, peace. Tears fill her eyes at what he's had to endure over the past year, and then she notices his hand clutching what looks like a piece of paper under his pillow. She grabs the edge of it between her pointer finger and thumb, tugging gently as not to wake him.

 

It's a drawing- an extremely detailed, beautiful drawing- of a bird. Something is tugging at her again, another memory. She flips the drawing over, and there's a note on the back, written in loopy script. 

 

"Remember- if you love someone they're always with you, no matter where they go. I love you, Henry. Love, Judy"

 

The rush of emotion she feels makes her inhale sharply, as the unknown, the enigma, of who Judy really was to her and her family keeps shifting. It's such an unsettling feeling; like she doesn't even know the deepest part of herself.

 

Jen knows sleep won't come easy, so she pushes herself to an hour-long workout on her bike, followed by a long shower. She changes into her pyjamas, then lays down on her bed. She almost feels guilty that her thoughts aren't of Ted; tries to remind herself she probably spent months mourning him. All her thoughts are of Judy, desperately trying to piece it all together.

 

Suddenly she's struck with an urge to call her- an urge so strong Jen nearly reaches for her phone. But she stops herself. She can't do that, not one day after kicking Judy out, after telling her she never wants to see her again. A bone-deep loneliness settles over her, and she suddenly feels an ache in her chest she can't explain. 

 

She glances over to her clock to check the time.

 

It's 12:06 am.

 

*

 

That night, Jen dreams of a bird. There's flashes of images- the bird at Henry's window, Henry's smiling. Then it's flying around the garage, trapped and confused. Judy appears, holding the bird, looking like Snow White. Then Jen's holding Henry as Judy sings, something beautiful, she's not sure what, digging a hole in the backyard.

 

Then the dream shifts. Now it's her and Judy, in what seems to be the woods, digging a much larger hole. Judy's sobbing. 

 

The dichotomy of it is jarring. Jen wakes in a cold sweat.

 

*

 

In the following days and weeks, Jen feels as if she's re-calibrating; learning what her life is now, and re-learning certain people's place in it. It's a constant parade of new information, both popping up from her own brain, and from what other people tell her. 

 

Christopher comes over, after Jen finally decides to answer the phone when he calls; there's a Holy Harmonies concert coming up, she'll have to see him then, anyway. He waltzes in with a dog, albeit, an adorable one, cradled in his arm. 

 

"Hi, Auntie Jen, I've missed you," he holds the dog up to Jen's face, speaking in what she can only assume is supposed to be the dog's voice. "I've missed you, too," he says as himself, leaning in to give her a hug. She returns it, lets herself sink into the familiarity of him; even though she knows things have changed here, too. 

 

"It's good to see you," Jen says, meaning it, as they sit down on the couch. "And this is?" She gestures to the dog.

 

"Oh that's right- this is Adele." He unceremoniously plops her into Jen's lap. She touches the soft fur, scratching her ears, feeling strangely emotional (when does she not, lately?). Chris takes a loud breath, "I've been so worried about you, Jen, and I'm so sorry. I know you don't remember, but things were really rough there for awhile after Ted-"

 

Jen cuts him off, "No, you don't have anything to apologize for. Seriously. I've been remembering some things... I know how difficult I was." Chris raises his eyebrows. "Okay, difficult, psychotic bitch, however you want me to put it. I realize I have some anger issues I need to deal with. And I've actually been enjoying working on my own- just got a great listing I'll start showing tomorrow."

 

Chris smiles, and his relief is apparent. "That's great, Jen, I'm so happy for you. You should know, before the accident, you really had gotten so much better. I don't think you'd had a violent outburst for weeks."

 

She laughs, self-deprecating, "Wow! What an accomplishment for me."

 

He laughs too, then glances around the living room. "Speaking of, where is your better half?"

 

Jen feels a blush creeping up her neck, "What?"

 

"Judy? Is she at work?"

 

'Here we go again.' "She... she moved out."

 

"Are you serious?! Why?" 

 

Jen can't even work it out herself, is so sick of having to put words to it, "It's fucking complicated, okay? I didn't even know who she was-"

 

"Wow," Chris breathes out. "You still... don't remember her?"

 

Jen closes her eyes. "I remember some things. Random snippets. It's like there's so much there, I know it, I just can't reach it... I can't explain how frustrating it is," She's blinking back tears, now, "Last thing I remember I was mourning Ted, and now I feel like I'm mourning something completely different, that I don't even understand."

 

"You know..." Chris starts, then trails off, and Jen wants to slap him. 

 

"Fuck, Christopher, I DON'T know, and everyone is tip-toeing around me, you are the last person I'd expect to do that."

 

"Okay, okay. Judy said something to me when you were getting your beauty sleep. Not much, she respected your privacy, but I think the two of you were close to being... more than friends." 

 

Now THAT Jen was not expecting, but the pressure she's been feeling in her chest is suffocating for a moment. "What? I... I feel like I would remember that. Don't you think?"

 

Chris looks doubtful. "If you didn't remember anything about Judy at all, and things are slowly coming back to you... maybe it makes sense that your brain is easing you in. Accepting your lesbian love for your best friend is a lot to process," he smirks at her, "Now even your repression is repressed."

 

She laughs, despite herself. "Fuck you! I am not repressed! You must be messing with me," But she feels the doubt creeping in. 

 

Chris seems to sense Jen is folding in on herself, and changes the subject. "I'll just let you marinate on that for a while. I do have some other news I want to share with you, again..."

 

Jen looks up at him, raises an eyebrow, happy to have the focus off of her and the utter confusion that is her life. "Yes?"

 

"I'm engaged. I know you don't remember Alan, but, you like him. We're getting married in three months, and you already agreed to be my maid of honor. Which means you'll be matching the other bridesmaid when you walk her down the aisle," he holds up Adele, has her do a little jig.

 

"Oh, FUCK no," Jen spits out. "Now I know you're lying to me. No way would I have ever agreed to that."

 

*

 

At night, more dreams. Short moments; and they start staying with Jen when she wakes up, but they don't seem to be linear. It's still impossible to make much sense of them.

 

A man she doesn't recognize in her backyard, demanding to know where Judy is. Herself, saying "Judy would have stopped."

 

Back to the woods. Digging a hole. Judy sobbing. 

 

Judy, in a bathroom, crying, reaching for her- "I love you." Her response, "I fucking hate you."

 

In the light of day, through all her confusion, the one thing she's sure of is that she never meant that.

 

Her heart aches. She presses on.

 

*

 

One afternoon, Jen is busy working on a listing on her laptop when she suddenly senses a presence behind her. She turns to find Shandy Adams approximately 3 inches from her left shoulder. "Ah!" She can’t help but exclaim, heart racing. "Shandy, hi. Henry told me you were coming over."

 

She only really remembers Shandy as Henry's classmate who found Ted on the side of the road, but apparently she isn't the only one who's made new friends recently. It's good for Henry, she knows, even if Shandy is on the wrong side of super fucking weird. 

 

"So you were in a coma?" Shandy asks. "That's so cool."

 

"Great to see you, too," Jen says. "Yes, I was. I'm glad that earns me some cool points."

 

"I was reading a Reddit sub-thread about people's experiences in comas. You know, some people aren't totally asleep and can sense what's going on around them?"

 

Jen feels as if she should be shocked, but somehow knows Shandy has said even stranger stuff to her in the past. "Huh! Well, that wasn't my experience. I was dead to the fu- dead to the world."

 

"Some people also create a totally different reality for themselves. One man said he felt like he was stuck beneath a sewer grate. He could see people walking above him and they would throw cigarette butts and trash down there. There was an alligator with him, and he knew if he made a noise the alligator would get him. He was in a coma for 6 months. Isn't that cool?"

 

"Yeaaah..." Jen's wide-eyed now, she doesn't think Shandy took a breath while speaking, it was actually quite impressive, "Maybe if I'd had a pet alligator during my coma, I'd have woken up feeling better."

 

Henry comes in then, "Karaoke time?" He asks Shandy, and they head off.

 

"Oh thank Christ," Jen mutters. 

 

*

 

At night, more montages.

 

"You can disappear off the fucking planet."

 

"He was looking for a way out. He jumped in front of our car. I don't fucking blame him. I'd want to kill myself too, you miserable cunt!"  

 

"Judy... I need you to come home."

 

"I was going to kill myself. But you called me... and you saved me."

 

"It was self defense." "No, it wasn't."

 

"I forgive you."

 

In the morning, realizations. 

 

Jen thought that Judy didn't deserve her because of what she did to Ted.

 

She still isn't sure exactly what she'd done, doesn't think she's ready to know; but she thinks now she had that backwards. 

 

*

 

Lorna's been wanting to meet with her for awhile, and although she's seen her in passing, dropping off and picking up the boys, so far she's managed to avoid any real in-depth conversations. However, Lorna has been very supportive and helpful, so Jen finally gives in when she asks her to come over to "catch up" (Jen has never heard Lorna use that phrase before, she thinks maybe she isn't the only one with a head injury).

 

Still, "catching up" with Lorna feels like a formal affair, sitting across from each other at her dining table, and Jen, for the umpteenth time over the past few weeks, has a nagging sense of deja vu. 

 

"I just wanted to ask how you're doing, Jennifer, when the boys aren't around so we can really talk," Lorna starts, sounding as genuinely concerned as Jen's ever heard her (not a high bar). 

 

Jen puffs out her cheeks, exhales, she's so fucking sick of talking about how she's doing. "I'm doing fine, Lorna, okay?" (She knows she's not.)

 

Lorna is clearly skeptical. "Have your memories come back to you yet?"

 

"I get some here and there, yes. I think I have much more of an understanding of the last several months than I did right after the accident." She doesn't add that it's like a 300 piece puzzle that's just come out of the box, and she's trying desperately to begin to put it together.

 

"The boys told me that Miss Hale moved out, and I have to say I was very surprised."

 

Jen blinks at that. She was not expecting Judy to even be on Lorna's radar. "Oh. Well, yeah. She got a new job. You know, shit happens. Also, you don't have to call her "Miss Hale". She's not your kindergarten teacher."

 

Lorna gives her a look she can't decipher, "You know, you told me Judy was your life partner. Her moving out seems a bit more serious than 'shit happens'." Hilariously, she actually uses air quotes, but Jen is too stunned to laugh. Lorna takes Jen's silence as an invitation to keep talking, "So you're doing okay financially?"

 

Another shocker. "I'm sorry, what does that have to do with Judy moving out?"

 

Lorna rolls her eyes, "Jennifer, you don't remember anything, do you? Judy gave you money to give me, in order to buy me out of ownership of your house, and so you wouldn't have to work for me any more. I'm wondering how you were able to pay her back."

 

'What. The. Fuck.' Jen's throat is suddenly bone dry. She grabs the glass of water Lorna poured her when they first sat down, coughs, asks, "And how much money was that?" before taking a sip.

 

"$800,000."

 

Jen chokes on the water.

 

*

 

When Jen finally, mercifully, escapes the conversation with Lorna, she high-tails it to her car.

 

What kind of person doesn't even mention they gave you $800,000, and just leaves when you ask them to?

 

Ana's words (her words) come back to her: "a fucking angel on Earth".

 

Jen throws her head back into the headrest with a sigh and closes her eyes.

 

As she tries to calm herself down, she remembers. 

 

Sitting right here with Judy, just like this. But instead of feeling miserable like she feels now, she felt ecstatic. 

 

Judy's questioning "Life partner?", also (adorably) using air quotes.

 

Jen, teasing, "You need more than that?"

 

The truth in Judy's eyes when she responded, "Yes"; how it shifted to happiness, to hope, when Jen told her, "You'll get it."

 

Jen knows she'd never meant anything more in her life.

 

She feels sick.

 

*

 

On her way home, Jen drives by her favorite bakery and decides to stop and get a treat for herself (let's face it, she could eat some feelings) and the boys. Cherry pie is her favorite, and this place makes the best one. When she gets home, she can't resist cutting herself a small piece. She takes a bite and something is... off. Like they changed the recipe, or her taste buds are different, or... she's had one that's better. 

 

Another memory comes back to her- clear as day. Another conversation with Judy.

 

"Cherry of course. Your favorite."

 

"I gained ten pounds over the summer."

 

"You look beautiful!"

 

"No."

 

"I wish you would love yourself more!"

 

Jen feels a smile on her face, warmth in her chest; it fades quickly.

 

She throws the rest of the pie in the trash. 

 

*

That night, Jen can't find her phone. She's looked everywhere, and although her brain is a jumbled mess, she's still pretty fucking sure that phones can't sprout legs and walk yet, surely that technology hasn't been invented in the past few months.

 

"Charlie!" She yells as she comes up the stairs, "You seen my phone?"

 

"Nope!" 

 

She walks towards Henry's room, and stops outside the door when she hears him talking quietly. "I wish you could have seen it, I absolutely killed my solo last week, you would have cried for sure."

 

Tears spring to Jen's eyes, both with pride (because he did fucking kill the solo, as surreal as seeing him perform in his Christian rock group was), and when she realizes who he's talking to.

 

He pauses, "No, I didn't ask her, but I miss you so much... I know she does too-"

 

Jen barges in at that, raises an eyebrow pointedly at Henry, and he looks caught. "Mommy, I'm sorry, I just really needed to talk to Judy. Do you want to say hi?"

 

Jen does, has been fighting the urge to call her, is about to grab the phone before she has time to second-guess herself, but Judy is clearly saying something to Henry now, his attention back on her.

 

"Oh, okay. You have to go? Do you have a date?"

 

Jen's heart drops. She can't give a second thought to that. 

 

"Can I call you again soon? Yes, I'll ask permission next time. I promise. I love you, too. Bye Judy." He hangs up, hands over the phone, looking sheepish. "I'm really sorry. I should have asked. If I had my own phone I could have just used it," he gives Jen a big grin, and she can't help but smile in return.

 

"Good try, buddy. And it's okay. I'm not mad. Just ask next time, I understand if you want to talk to her. I know she misses you, too," she sits down on his bed, sees the drawing of the bird on his nightstand and picks it up. "Can you tell me about this bird?"

 

Henry's eyes light up. "That's Dad bird!" He happily tells her the whole tale- from the noble beginnings on the window sill, to its untimely demise at the hands of (shocker) Shandy.

 

Jen realizes it's the first time she's thought of Ted in days… maybe weeks.

 

After tucking Henry in, Jen pads down the hallway to her room, absent-mindedly unlocking her phone. It pulls up the thread of her texts with Judy. The last text is outgoing:

 

Hi Judy. It's Henry. Can u call me?

 

Jen has never been attached to her phone, never loved texting, but she can't believe she hadn't thought to look through texts, or pictures, or anything since her accident. Now she sees that Judy had changed even more about her than she realized; a quick scroll and she can tell there's hundreds of messages between the two of them. 

 

Part of her wants to go back as far as her phone will allow, read them all, but she can't do that to herself. She just scrolls and stops randomly (noticing that the purple heart emoji seems to be Judy's go-to. This is just the latest in a long line of weird things that make her heart ache).

 

Just checking in  💜

 

-scroll-

 

Hope you're having a great day 💜

 

-scroll-

 

                 Can you stop and pick up some wine on the way home? Barrell's dry

 

Sure. What kind?

 

                Uhhh the kind with fucking alcohol?

 

👍💜

 

-scroll-

 

What sounds better for dinner- vegetarian lasagna or meatless tacos?

 

                 I don't even know what the point of meatless tacos would be

 

The point is they're delicious and animals don't have to be killed to make them…

 

                Eh, I'm not convinced.

 

Lasagna it is! 💜

 

-scroll-

 

I got a good Groupon emailed to me today! Buy three waterpark tickets, get one free. Interested? 

 

                  I don't think I've ever been less interested in anything in my life.

 

🥺 Please? It'll be fun, and the boys will love it! I'll even wear that black bikini I know you like 😉

 

                  Tempting… but I can appreciate the black bikini at home, without being in a cesspool of other peoples' germs. If you want to take the boys though, feel free!

 

Hmm… who would be our fourth? Henry could invite Shandy?

 

                   Nah, she's more of an indoor child. You could ask Christopher. He always loves a reason to bust out his speedo. (Jen laughs at that. It's true, he does.)

 

🤣Tempting. I'll consider it.

 

-scroll-

 

The last texts before the one Henry sent are from the day of the accident. 

 

We're still on for our "super secret buy Charlie a car without him suspecting a thing" mission today, right?

 

                  Yes, but we might want to workshop that name, weirdo. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue

 

😔 Fiiiiine.

 

                   I'll be home in 5 babe. 

 

That's the only time Jen seems to ever have used an emoji. Somehow, she knows it's meaningful. 

 

There is a simple domesticity in so many of their texts. It's obvious there was an extreme comfort level between the two of them, something Jen had never experienced before, not even with Ted. For years, really, it was as if she and Ted had lived separate but parallel lives. From everything everyone has been telling her about Judy, combined with her own memories, and the hard evidence of their texts, they could not have been more entwined.

 

Jen knows she felt immense grief over Ted; regardless of what their relationship had become, he was her husband and she'd loved him. There was also the guilt she felt over her part in his death, and in her last words to him.

 

What she's feeling now is also a combination of grief and guilt; over the end of her relationship with Judy. It's almost worse, though, because Judy's still out there. And Jen sent her away.

 

That night, she dreams of happiness, then the wreck, on a loop; over and over again, the happiness is ripped away. 

 

*

 

One day, Jen is making herself a sandwich for lunch between house showings when there's a knock at the door. She goes to open it and there's a handsome man, smiling at her. "Hi, Jen."

 

Suddenly, she feels woozy. This is the man she's had flashes of memories of- the one who she hasn't let herself think much about because she doesn't want to know the truth about who he is.

 

The man in her backyard. 

 

"Judy would have stopped."

 

"I'd want to kill myself too, you miserable cunt!" 

 

Blinding rage. The weight of something heavy in her hand. The man…floating face down in the pool…

 

"Judy, I need you to come home."

 

Digging a hole… Judy sobbing…

 

Jen feels herself start to sway as the man reaches out to steady her. "Not this again!"

 

Jen snaps back to the present, shrugs the man's hand off her arm. "I'm sorry. Who are you?"

 

The man's smile falters; there's something not quite adding up- he has kind eyes. The man she remembers did not. "Wow, you really did lose some memories. I'm Ben," he pauses, then continues when Jen doesn't say anything. "We were finally able to have Steve's funeral yesterday-"

 

'Steve.' Jen cuts him off, "Sorry- you knew Steve?"

 

Ben laughs, "Yeah, we shared a womb. Semi-identical twins, remember?" Jen glares at him, and he smacks his forehead with his palm. "Obviously not, duh! Sorry about that. Yes, my twin brother Steve… Judy's ex. I saw her at the funeral, she came into town from San Francisco. She told me about your accident," something changes in his eyes again, but Jen doesn't know how to decipher it, "and I'm so sorry. I hope you're doing better."

 

Jen's heart flutters at the mention of Judy, at her being in town. "How's Judy doing?" She blurts out, unable to stop herself. 

 

Ben frowns. Everything Jen says seems to send him into a deeper state of shock. "You two aren't keeping in touch? Wow… it seemed like you couldn't live without each other. Anyway, she's great. Looks fantastic. Loves her new job. I'm sure they love her there, too, you know Judy," he smiles fondly, then looks doubtful. "Or I guess you don't?"

 

Jen bristles. "I-" her voice cracks, she coughs to cover it up, "I know her."

 

An awkward silence passes between the two of them. Ben finally speaks, "Well, now that Steve's case is closed, we've had the funeral, and Mom sold her house, I'm headed back home. Oh- thanks for hooking her and Lorna up, by the way. Worked out great."

 

'Hooking Lorna up? What the fuck?' Jen really doesn't want to prod at that thought, so just replies with a lame, "You're welcome."

 

"I wanted to say goodbye before I left. Sorry you don't remember me. Can't believe you could forget my sweet moves," he wiggles his arms in what she's guessing is some form of dance and waggles his eyebrows simultaneously. Jen just looks at him, stone-faced. Ben finally seems to accept this isn't going to get any better for him. "Goodbye Jen," he smiles at her, a bit sadly. "Take care."

 

"Bye Ben. Thanks." She shuts the door as fast as she can, then leans back against it. 

 

She is feeling so many emotions, she doesn't even know where to start. As always, recently, Judy is at the forefront. She pushes that to the side, for now.

 

It's all clicking into place, unfortunately, Jen can't keep it at bay any longer. Her own brain, Ana, Judy, they were all trying to protect her from the truth. 

 

She remembers it, now. And although she knows Steve was a terrible person, was responsible for Ted's death, had caused herself and Judy and who knows how many other people unbearable pain, the truth is… Jen is a murderer. A murderer who forced her best friend to help cover it up.

 

Jen runs to the bathroom, makes it to the toilet just in time to throw up all the contents in her stomach. 

 

Ben was just the latest in a long line of people, each holding up a mirror to Jen, saying "here's who you are. Look how you've fucked up."

 

It's unbearable.

 

*

 

It doesn't stop there. That night, Charlie knocks on her bedroom door as she's getting ready for bed. Jen can see he's holding an envelope. 

 

"Hey Mom," He's looking down, not meeting her eyes; he seems nervous. 

 

Jen walks over to her bed and sits down, curious. "What's up baby?" Charlie sits by her, still clutching the envelope, and when he finally looks up, there are tears in his eyes. Jen immediately reaches out and puts her hand on his knee, alarmed. "What's wrong?" 

 

"When you were in your coma, I found this. I was snooping in Judy's room, looking for some weed," he gives a half smile, sheepish. Jen waves her hand, that is clearly not important now, and he keeps going. "Sorry. I… I confronted Judy about it, and I told her I threw it away. I don't know why I lied… I hadn't forgiven her yet, and I think I wanted to keep it, for evidence or something, just in case." He pauses. Jen is so confused, but stays quiet. "I know why Judy really left. I know she told you the truth about Dad."

 

Jen gasps, "Charlie-"

 

"No. Wait. Let me finish. She told you, and you freaked out, but the truth is you already knew and you already forgave her. Judy thought leaving was the right thing to do. She thought it would be best for you. But it's clearly not. You're miserable, I know you miss her. She made you happy… happier than I'd seen you in a long time. I tried to go along with it, because at first I thought maybe she was right. But I think you're remembering everything anyway."

 

Jen feels tears in her eyes, and Charlie hands her the envelope, she looks down to see "Judy" written in her own handwriting. 

 

"I should have given this to you a long time ago. I'm really sorry." 

 

Jen is overwhelmed with emotion; the strongest of which is pride. She grabs Charlie roughly and pulls him into a hug. He grunts, "Ow!" 

 

Jen laughs through her tears. "Okay, tough guy. I'm so damn proud of you."

 

"Thanks Mom," he pulls back and smiles at her. "You really should be."

 

"Don't be getting a big head about it, though."

 

"Nope."

 

"I love you, Char."

 

"Love you too, Mom." He stands up and heads for the door, then turns back. "Call Judy. You need her."

 

Jen just smiles at him and holds up the letter. "Thank you."

 

After Charlie closes the door, Jen reaches for her glasses, slides them on, then takes a shaky breath as she opens the envelope and pulls the letter out. Part of her remembers writing it; but she needs to read the words. 

 

As she reads, the tears flow freely. She doesn't bother trying to stop them. It's as if she can see her hand writing the words, she feels just as she did that night: the guilt, the resignation, the relief, the heartbreak, the love.

 

I am so glad that we met.

-

I'm sorry I couldn't forgive you sooner for Ted. No matter what you think, you've paid the price. Now, I need to do the same. 

-

I love you more than wine. Thank you for loving me and our boys.  

 

Jen takes her glasses off when she finishes reading, clutches the letter to her aching chest. 

 

She remembers the events of that night before she wrote the letters- the confession to Judy, the absolutely awful things she'd said to her; her own despair at seeing how much pain Judy was in, because of her. The next day, the "trek into the woods"; coming home after Perez let her off the hook; the sheer relief at having her boys back in her arms; the completely undeserved forgiveness and love Judy had given her. 

 

After everything Jen had done, Judy had forgiven her. Had loved and cared for her children as if they were her own. Had never left her side when she was in the coma. Had loved her. Had wanted her- Jen knows that, too.

 

How had Jen thanked her?

 

The pain in her chest is unbearable as she replays in her mind kicking Judy out of her- their!- house, again, telling her she never wants to see her again, AGAIN... the tears streaming down Judy's perfect face, the agony she must have been feeling... Jen feels the tears on her own face as she gasps for air. 

 

Charlie is right; Jen needs her. But she remembers the last time she called Judy and said "I need you to come home"- she'd needed Judy to help hide her ex-fiance's dead body. It was manipulative and selfish beyond belief. Judy deserves so much better than Jen.

 

In San Francisco, Judy has a new job, a fresh start. Maybe someone who is deserving of her love, too. 

 

Jen knows she certainly isn't.

 

She remembers so much… but she can't let herself think any more about Judy, about what they were possibly becoming. She can remember her fondly, as a friend who was in her life for awhile. Nothing more. 

 

Jen can lock up that part of her forever. Lock it up and throw away the key.

 

*

 

It works, mostly, if Jen doesn't give any thought to her dreams. 

 

Now that her memories are (mostly) intact, her subconscious seems to have moved on from showing her the past, instead showing her a future she wants. Of course, every image includes Judy.

 

Jen can't think about it. Won't think about it.

 

*

 

A couple of weeks later, it's the day of Henry's 5th grade graduation. The day sneaks up on Jen, and she feels wholly unprepared. As she's rushing to get ready that afternoon, she realizes she didn't even plan anything for dinner; Lorna and Christopher are coming over afterwards. Luckily Lorna is taking care of a cake. As she's about to spiral into self-hatred, the doorbell rings. Jen has come to expect the worst when someone is at the door, and actually finds herself relieved to see the smiling face of her neighbor. 

 

"Hi, Karen. It's nice to see you," Jen says with a (very slightly forced) smile. 

 

"Jen, hi, thanks, that's good to hear," Karen replies, and Jen feels a rush of guilt; Karen's obviously surprised to be greeted warmly.

 

'Note to self, be less of a bitch,' Jen thinks before gesturing to what Karen's holding. "Whatcha got there?"

 

"Well, I know today is Henry's big day, and Judy did most of the cooking… I hate to be presumptuous, but just in case you needed something special to eat tonight, Henry really loved my Mexican lasagna," Karen holds it out, and Jen grabs it.

 

Jen takes a moment, swallows the defensive barb bubbling up in her throat, and smiles instead. "You know Karen, I never thought I'd say this, but you're a life-saver. Thank you."

 

Karen fucking beams at her, "You're welcome! I hope you all enjoy it. Oh- and I got a lot of negative feedback on the raisins, so I left those out. Also, it's in an aluminum pan this time, you don't have to worry about getting the dish back to me." She gives an awkward wave and turns to leave, but Jen feels like she should say something else- be friendly (gross), maybe?

 

"Hey, how's your vlog going? I haven't had a chance to check it out, sorry."

 

Karen turns back around, beaming again, "It's been so much fun! I don't want to say I've gone "viral", but there are dozens of weekly watchers," she pauses, brain clearly whirring, "You know, I've had some guests, would you like to come on one week? You could give perspective on getting back out there as a widow-"

 

"Absolutely not," Jen cuts her off with her sweetest smile. 

 

*

 

At the graduation, Jen is sandwiched between Christopher on her left, and Charlie and Lorna on her right. Henry waves from his place in line as the 5th graders file into the auditorium to "Pomp and Circumstance", looking so handsome in his blue cap and gown, smiling proudly. Jen feels herself tear up at how grown her youngest looks, as Chris whispers in her ear, "You'd think they could jazz up the music selection a bit. Isn't this song played out?"

 

Jen forces out a laugh as she wipes her eyes. "Yeah, they really should have hired you to DJ this elementary school graduation." 

 

"I would have liked to see it," Charlie mutters at the same time as Lorna shushes them.

 

The monotone reading of names begins, and Jen tries to enjoy the moment. She's been trying so hard, lately, to just be present. It's helpful, and she feels joy as they get to the H's and Henry approaches the stage. She pulls out her phone to video, grinning at him as he smiles and waves at them again. But she sees it, something in his eyes, and it hits her right in the chest. 

 

Judy should be here.

 

She can't let go of the thought after that.

 

After Annabelle Ziegler receives her diploma ("Fucking finally," Charlie whispers), the entire 5th grade files back onto the stage for a musical performance. As the opening bars of Vitamin C's "Graduation" ring out, Chris giggles, "This gets better and better!"

 

Jen, however, is overwhelmed by emotion, mortifyingly so, especially as she sees Henry belting his heart out. She can't stop the tears that she's barely kept at bay all night. 

 

As we go on,

we remember

All the times we

Had together…

 

Jen is choking back sobs as Charlie awkwardly pats her on the back and Lorna leans around him to stare at her, stricken, hand to chest. She can sense others around them trying not to look, and though she feels her face getting red, she can't blame them.

 

Christopher hands her a small pack of Kleenex and puts his arm around her, squeezes her shoulder. The song stops and the crowd bursts into applause. Jen wants to crawl under her chair and hide from embarrassment, but takes deep breaths as she claps and pulls herself together. 

 

Chris leans into her, "Really, Jen? Vitamin C makes you go to pieces now? The Jen of old would have laughed at the utter corniness. You've lost your fire, you're just… sad. It's depressing."

 

"Well fuck you, too!" She pulls away, offended. 

 

Chris smiles. "There she is."

 

*

 

When they get back to the house, there's a package on the front porch, large and thin, addressed to Henry. They get inside and he sits on the couch with it, rips open the card. "It's from Judy!" He exclaims, smiling broadly. He peels back the paper carefully, and his eyes go wide. "Wow! It's me!" Jen walks over from the kitchen to stand behind the couch, the other three close behind her. 

 

Jen's heart jumps into her throat when she sees the painting. "It is you, Boop," she says, ruffling his hair. It's a painting of Henry, clad in his blue cap and gown (he and Judy have still been talking regularly; of course she'd asked about the color), smiling proudly. It could be a photograph- she's so clearly captured the essence of Henry, his exuberance. It's gorgeous, and takes Jen's breath away.

 

"That's incredible," Lorna says, "I had no idea she was so talented."

 

"It's awesome, dude!" Charlie adds, sitting on the couch next to him, pulling him in for a hug. "And even though graduation was two hours too long, I'm really proud of you."

 

"But it was only two hours long!" Henry laughs. 

 

"Exactly," Charlie smirks.

 

Henry sticks his tongue out at him as Jen leans over, grabbing his head and giving it a slight push. "Ass!" 

 

*

 

Dinner goes well, the Mexican lasagna is a hit (well, it gets eaten) and so is the cake, although the picture Lorna chose to top it is one of her holding Henry as a baby ("On brand" Chris mutters to Jen when Lorna brings it out). 

 

After Lorna and Christopher leave, Henry asks Jen if they can hang up his new painting in his room. Jen grabs a hammer and a couple of nails, and enlists Charlie's help to make sure it goes up straight. Jen finds that she can't look at the painting, not yet; it makes her so sad.

 

With Henry safely tucked into bed, Jen and Charlie leave his room. "Good night, Char. Thanks for being such a great big brother today," she smiles as she turns to walk down the hall. Charlie reaches out and grabs her arm.

 

"Judy should have been here today. Why haven't you called her?"

 

Jen grimaces. She really doesn't feel up to confronting this with Charlie, hasn't been up to confronting it with herself. "Char," she shakes her head. "It's complicated. I'm trying to think about what's best for her, for once."

 

"Mom, I know the complications. Judy loves us… and if you love her too, there's nothing better for all of us than her being here."

 

Jen looks at him, amazed for the millionth time recently at the man her boy is becoming. "I'm sorry," she manages to say.

 

Now he looks confused. "For what?"

 

"I haven't been a good mother."

 

He pulls her into a hug. "Mom, you've been great. It's gotten so much better. You're always making sure Henry and I are taken care of and happy. Plus you actually don't treat me like a five-year-old anymore," he steps back to grin at her. "But you can let yourself be happy, too."

 

*

 

Charlie's words are running through Jen's head as she gets ready for bed (and in what kind of Twilight Zone universe is she living that the 16-year-old boy is her voice of reason?), and she realizes the concept of "happy" is something she can't wrap her mind around. When was the last time she was truly happy? There were moments with Judy, she knows, she feels it, but how many layers of shit were always there, too? 

 

As she rummages through her drawer, trying to find a pair of clean pyjama pants, she sees a pattern she knows she'd never wear. A slow smile spreads on her face as she recognizes them, remembers teasing Judy, watching her as she folded them up and stuffed them in the drawer, "Of course the one pair of comfy pants you own are fucking constellation pants." 

 

Judy had grinned at her, "Well technically I don't think there's constellations on them, I mean you couldn't pick out the big dipper or anything-"

 

"Hey Jude," she'd interrupted. "Shut up and get into bed."

 

It's the first time she really registers that they'd shared her bed. And she knows- she'd been happy then.

 

Her mind goes to another memory- Judy wearing those pants. She knows this one is from early on in their friendship, something her brain hadn't accessed for awhile. Sharing her form of "meditation" with Judy; feeling seen and accepted. The ocean breeze; looking at Judy and being struck by her beauty, inside and out; thanking her for coming into her life. Meaning it, with every fiber of her being. 

 

She falls asleep clutching Judy's pants and a pillow, breathing in the scent of something citrus-y, something warm, something Judy. 

 

She dreams of her, and she knows- Judy had made her happier than anyone.

 

*

 

Jen wakes up and reaches out, only to find an empty space where Judy should be. Her eyes snap open as the fog of sleep leaves her brain, and she realizes- she knows. In her arms is where Judy should be. It's where Judy was, nightly, for how long, she's not sure; but she remembers the feeling- the feeling of wanting her there forever. 

 

It comes crashing over her like a tidal wave and she feels like she's drowning- everything she's been pushing down, she can't anymore, it's impossible, and it's killing her. Her heart is broken, a heartbreak like she's never known, for Judy- her best friend, her person, her life partner; who she was only beginning to understand and accept was the love of her life, before it all fell apart. 

 

She misses her; misses her so much it's debilitating, so much she can't breathe. 

 

She remembers waking up in the hospital, the way Judy looked at her as she was kissing her fingers; she didn't understand it then, but as she sees Judy's face in her mind, she knows no one else has ever loved her like that. No one else ever will.

 

Jen thinks of Judy's last words to her- "I know you don't remember us, but I'll never forget"- and she remembers, God, she remembers. What she's feeling is so strong she doesn't understand how she ever could have forgotten. There wasn't any "what they were becoming", but what they simply were; it didn't matter that they hadn't defined it, that Jen had been too chicken shit to do anything about it other than want Judy in her bed every night- they were in love. 

 

It really wasn't fair of Judy to leave without giving Jen all the information, even though Jen knows her heart was in the right place. And Jen knows, now, it's not fair of her to not tell Judy that she remembers. Judy's a grown up, she can decide if she wants Jen in her life or not. Jen is desperate for Judy in hers... even if it's just a friendship over the phone. No manipulation, no pressure, no expectations; she just has to talk to her, has to apologize, has to know Judy is okay, that she's not wallowing in the same agony Jen can't escape. 

 

It's 5:30 in the morning, Jen has no idea what she will say or if Judy will even answer, but she can't go another second without hearing her voice. Jen grabs her phone from the nightstand and scrolls to Judy's number.

 

It's been two months since they've spoken; and Jen's nerves are kicking in now. What if in this time Judy has forgotten her? The phone rings once, twice, then Judy picks up.

 

All of Jen's willpower flies out the window the second she hears Judy's voice. The voice of an angel, even tinged with sleep and confusion.

 

"Hello?"

Chapter Text

"Angela? Hi. It's Judy," she pauses, takes a deep breath. "Is the job in San Francisco still available?"

 

*

 

Judy hangs up the phone, after talking with Angela and jotting down the details of her flight to San Francisco and interview the day after tomorrow. She tries to focus on what she needs to do, one step at a time, instead of the gaping hole she feels in her chest. She pulls out her luggage, begins gathering her things, which is easy since a lot of her clothes are still piled up from when she brought them back from Jen's  room (don't think about that, can't think about that). Her art supplies, she can just put in the back of her car, since she doesn't have any boxes handy. Judy's mind goes to Abe as she thinks of the car, thankful; and a fresh wave of grief hits her- she'd give anything to have him to talk to.

 

Judy paces around as she packs, knows she won't be able to get any sleep tonight, doesn't even want to try. She will go to work tomorrow, then check into a hotel for the night and fly to San Francisco the next day. If she gets the job, they will pay for her move and help get her set up in a new place there. If she doesn't, luckily she still has a bit of money stashed, and she'll have to find a new place here. She can find an extended stay hotel while she looks. It helps to think of these things she can control.

 

At least a dozen times, when her brain stops whirring, her willpower cracks and she nearly heads for the main house. It's like there's a magnetic pull, and she has to resist the almost primal urge to go back to Jen, to make her understand. She knows she should just load up her car and leave now, but there's something she has to do. She can't leave without saying goodbye to the boys, absolutely cannot do that to them. It's going to kill her, but the alternative would be even worse. They may hate her for leaving, but they would definitely hate her if she left with no explanation. 

 

Judy remembers the promise Charlie asked of her, and her will almost breaks again when she thinks about letting him down. She'll have to explain, she's not giving up on Jen, could never give up on her. She's doing this for her.

 

The pain is nearly unbearable when she thinks of Henry, she has to sit down and wrap her arms around herself, squeeze hard to feel like she's not physically breaking apart. A thought comes to her and she grabs a piece of paper and a pencil, turns toward the desk and begins to sketch. It's not much, but it's something, something tangible she can give him that says, "I love you. In my heart I'll always be here with you."

 

When she's done, she puts the drawing next to her purse, decides to go ahead and load everything up into the car. It only takes two trips.

 

She comes back inside and sits down on the bed, looks around. Nothing in the guest house is hers , and this space itself has never really felt like home. Judy had found that with Jen, with the boys. She found it the most in Jen's bed, in her arms. It's funny, she realizes, that she only had that for about a week. She's spent longer, every day since the accident, hoping that she'd get to experience it again.

 

Hope is the hardest thing to let go of.

 

It's a very long night. 

 

*

 

Judy feels as if there's a ball of lead in her gut when she lets herself into the house around 7:00 am, quietly walking up the stairs. It's silent, and she knows she has a little bit of time before Jen is up and moving around. 

 

She heads to Charlie's room first, takes a breath to fight back tears and a wave of nausea before knocking gently and pushing open the door. She knows he's already pressed snooze a couple of times by now, so she won't be waking him from a dead sleep- this was the time she always came knocking to make sure he was getting up, during the couple of weeks it was her responsibility. She swallows down another wave of emotion as she takes it in for the last time.

 

"Hey, Charlie," Judy says softly as she approaches the bed. He's clutching a pillow over his head, but rolls over immediately. 

 

"What?" He mumbles grumpily, eyes squinting up at her. "I'm in the middle of my second snooze! I have time!"

 

Judy smiles fondly. "I know. I need to talk to you. I'm sorry."

 

His eyes widen at that. "What's wrong? Is it Mom? Is she okay?" He sits up quickly, throws the pillow to the side.

 

"Yes!" Judy assures him quickly, sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed. "It's just," she closes her eyes, braces herself, "I have to go."

 

"What?" He looks incredulous. "What do you mean? What happened?"

 

Judy decides to just bite the bullet. "Last night I had to tell your mom about my part in what happened to your dad... again. She did not take it well. She wants me to leave."

 

"But- but she already forgave you! I read that letter, she said she should have forgiven you SOONER!" 

 

"Char, you know she doesn't remember that," Judy smiles sadly. "She doesn't remember me at all, I've built no trust, and... and I didn't mention Steve. She doesn't remember him either."

 

"Why not?! It was HIS fault, wasn't it?"

 

Judy nods, "Yes," she pauses, trying to work out how to explain this without telling Charlie everything. "Some bad things happened, between your mom and Steve. Things that... she'd be better off if she didn't remember. That she doesn't HAVE to remember." He looks at her, eyes questioning, but doesn't push her. She keeps her gaze steady, imploring him to understand.

 

Charlie shakes his head. "She could get her memories back, right? What if she remembers everything and you're not here? What happens then?" Judy is stunned for a moment. She honestly hadn't thought about that, had given up on the hope of Jen remembering. He senses her hesitation. "I'm right! You know I'm right. You can't go." 

 

He couldn't be making this any harder. "No," she tries to be firm, but knows how shaky her voice sounds, "I don't think she will. And no matter what, she has you and Henry. You're what is truly important. Okay?"

 

"What are you going to tell Henry?! This is going to break his heart, you know. We can't tell him the truth, so you're just going to be leaving him for no fucking reason?" There is anger in Charlie's words now, and though Judy expected it, she flinches.

 

"I got a job offer, well I have to interview, but it's a big promotion, in San Francisco. It's a great opportunity. I think he will understand that," she says, weakly, willing herself to believe it.

 

"Oh!" Charlie's eyebrows raise, a look of understanding with a hint of rage (she sees so much Jen in him in this moment, it makes her heart ache), "So that's what this is about, really. You're leaving us because of money."

 

THAT Judy did not expect, and this time she recoils as if he slapped her, tears instantly pooling in her eyes, a disbelieving sob traveling up her throat. "You can't possibly believe that."

 

He stares her down. "You promised me you wouldn't give up on her."

 

Judy stares right back. She knows the heartbreak is evident on her face, couldn't hide it if she tried. She puts her hand on his arm, and he doesn't pull away. "Charlie, I got this offer when Jen was in the coma. I turned it down. The only reason I'm taking it now is so I have somewhere to go," she swallows, can see his eyes softening. "I need you to really hear me here, really understand. I love her more than I love myself. That is the ONLY reason I am doing this. It is KILLING me to have to do it." She can't keep the tears at bay, feels them falling unbidden down her cheeks.

 

There are tears in Charlie's eyes now too, and he blinks them back. "I know," he whispers, "But what am I supposed to tell her?"

 

"She wants me to leave Char, she hates me. You don't have to tell her anything. Or you can tell her whatever you want. That will always be up to you. But I know you want what's best for her, too. She deserves to move on from everything that's happened and be happy," Judy gives him what she hopes is an assuring smile as her tears slow, "and as long as she has her two perfect angelic children, she will be."

 

Charlie huffs out a little laugh, "Well, she never had that."

 

Judy grins at him, then grows serious again. "I'll miss you so much, Charlie. I don't want to leave. Please believe that."

 

He nods, "I do. I'll miss you, too."

 

Judy leans in to give him a hug, and he rests his chin on her shoulder as he wraps his arms around her to hug her back. She's willing herself not to completely break down; there's still one more impossible goodbye left. She pulls away. "Will you come with me to talk to Henry? He's going to need his big brother."

 

They walk down the hall and into Henry's room together, Judy immediately sitting on his bed while Charlie stands a couple of steps behind her. He's still sleeping, and looks so angelic, Judy has to sit and take him in for a few moments. They had an instant connection, and it's only grown; his soft heart is going to take a beating because of her, and she can hardly bear the thought. Judy reaches out a trembling hand and strokes his hair, memorizing the softness of it. She thinks if she'd ever been blessed with her own son, he would have been just like Henry. For a brief moment in time, she thought she'd be around to watch him (to help him) grow; but that time has passed. 

 

"Henry," she says softly, and he opens his eyes, smiles when he sees Judy. He even wakes up in a good mood, every morning. 

 

"Good morning, Judy," he says sleepily, rubs his eyes. "Are you taking us to school today?"

 

She wants to cry. Wants to say "Yep!" and go on as if all is well. Take them to school, Jen in the passenger seat, smiling at her, holding her hand. Stop and get the boys donuts. A happy family. 

 

"No," Judy tells herself as much as she's telling him, has to face reality, "I just have to tell you something. I got a great new job, one where I can make a big difference and help a lot more people than I'm helping now. I'm so excited about it... but what stinks is that it's far away, and I have to move," she doesn't know if this sounds at all believable, she can't fake excitement right now, and hopes he can't see through her.

 

Henry jolts upright, "What?! How far? Can we still see you every day?"

 

The lump in her throat is making it nearly impossible to speak, "San Francisco," she manages to choke out. 

 

"No! You can't!" he reaches out, arms wrapping around her, buries his face in her chest, and she can instantly feel his tears, as hers start flowing again, too (maybe they never stopped). Judy looks up at Charlie, silently begging for help. 

 

He walks closer, puts a hand on Henry's back. "Henry, we have to be strong, okay? This is good for Judy, and we want what's best for her, right?"

 

Henry pulls back a bit, looks up, eyes darting between Judy and Charlie. "Of course. But how can what's best for Judy be leaving us?"

 

'IT CAN'T!' she wants to scream as his words pierce straight through her. He knows, she'd never choose this, but she can't tell him this really isn't about what's best for her. There's absolutely nothing she can think to say in this moment that isn't going to come out as complete and utter bullshit. Charlie's silent, too; she knows he feels the same. 

 

All Judy can think to do is reach into the pocket of her dress and pull out the drawing. She hands it to Henry. "I drew this for you, I thought you could keep it to think of me, and of Dadbird."

 

He studies it and his eyes go wide, "Wow, this looks just like him. Thanks." He flips it over, reads the note, lip quivering, then puts it on his nightstand. "But I don't want a drawing to look at to think of you. I just want you here."

 

She puts her arms around him again, kisses the top of his head. "I know. I'm so sorry. I don't want to leave you, truly. But you'll understand when you get older, sometimes adults have to make really hard decisions. This is very hard for me, but I have to take this job." She pulls back and stands up, has to now or she never will, and Jen will be up soon. She knows she's not strong enough to see her again. "I have to go."

 

"Now?!" Henry sounds almost panicked. Judy nods. "Okay," he's crying, but such a perfect boy, "I'll go with you downstairs."

 

It's silent as the three of them walk downstairs, other than the occasional sniffle. She walks to the kitchen counter, takes a deep breath as she grabs her purse, and Charlie steps right up to her. "You don't have to do this," he says quietly, so Henry can't hear, eyes pleading, "I can help you. We can talk to her together." For a second Judy considers it. It's what she wants more than anything. Then she thinks of the look on Jen's face the night before, and what the look on her face would be if she told her everything, told her about Steve.

 

Judy shakes her head, mind made up. She gives Charlie one last squeeze, reminds herself this is for the best. "I'm so sorry," she tells him as she pulls away, wiping away her tears. Henry throws his arms around her waist, tight, won't let go. It hurts her, a pain deep down in her soul, to gently remove his arms and squat down so she can look at him, eye-to-eye. "Hey," she tries to sound as upbeat as possible, "I'll always be with you, remember?"

 

Henry wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. "And you'll come back and visit, right?"

 

"Yes," she says, though it kills her to lie to him. She stands up, takes them both in.  They'll be okay, she knows. They have a wonderful mother, and they have each other. "I love you both so much."

 

Judy is practiced at leaving homes, at saying goodbye, at losing. Little pieces of her heart have been taken from her throughout her entire life, and this family, the closest thing to her family that she's ever known, had been healing it. 

 

She knows, now, it is shattered beyond repair. Walking out of that house is the hardest thing she's ever had to do, but she knows it's the right thing.

 

In her experience, no one's ever been better off with her.

 

*

 

Judy feels like a walking zombie that day as she goes through the motions at work. She feels bad about it, since she may not have much more time left here, with these people, they deserve her focus. But she can't stop thinking about Jen, and the boys, and her rushed goodbyes with them this morning; there is so much more she wishes she could have said to them. It would have taken hours to say everything in her heart, she knows, and she didn't have that kind of time. 

 

Angela calls Judy into her office that afternoon, and looks alarmed when she sits down across from her. "Girl, you okay?! No offense but you look terrible."

 

"Yeah, I'm sorry, I just didn't get much sleep last night."

 

Angela looks skeptical, but nods slowly, "Oookay, try to get some good rest tonight! You still all set for your flight in the morning?"

 

Judy tries to smile brightly, "Yes. And thank you so much, again, for getting this all set up for me."

 

"You’re very welcome. You deserve it. Now, this is between us, but I've heard they've had a couple of interviews already, and weren't very impressed with either candidate. Make sure you talk about all of the new art programs you've taken initiative on here- that's exactly the kind of thing they're looking for with this position. You'll be able to implement all kinds of new programs, and travel around to different centers to train staff and get them going." 

 

Judy feels a small rush of excitement through her grief, and tries to focus on the positivity this could bring to her life. "I will. That would be incredible."

 

Angela slides a sealed envelope across the desk to her. "I've already talked to them about you, obviously, but I also wrote this letter of recommendation for you."

 

Judy takes the letter and grins, "Wow, you really want me to get this job, don't you? Can't wait to get rid of me?"

 

Angela smiles, then regards Judy seriously. "No. Of course not. If you get it, you'll still be able to come around occasionally. I'm all about good things happening for good people- and if I can be a small part in making that happen, it brings me joy. You're a good person, Judy, and you deserve some good."

 

Judy blinks back fresh tears at the words- Angela couldn't possibly know how much she needed to hear them. "Thank you."

 

*

 

Judy stops and grabs a sandwich for dinner after work, then heads to a hotel near the airport to stay for the night. The shorter the drive in the morning, the better. Her flight is at 8:00 am so she will have to be there early. Judy has only flown a couple of times in her life, and it always makes her anxious. This will be the first time she's ever flown alone, the other times were on trips with Steve. 

 

After eating, she takes a quick shower and can barely keep her eyes open, so she lays down on the bed to rest for a few minutes. When she opens her eyes, it's pitch black, and she's surprised that she must have fallen asleep for hours. As she gets up to brush her teeth, put on her pyjamas and plug in her phone charger, her mind drifts to Jen. She hopes she had a good day, hopes she's feeling some peace about her life now that Judy is gone from it. She thinks to the boys, hopes that they weren't upset for too long, that they were able to have good days at school. She wonders what they had for dinner. 

 

As she lays back down and turns off the light, all Judy wants to do is call Jen. She wants to ask if they're okay, wants to hear her voice, even if it's saying how much she fucking hates her. The urge is so strong Judy reaches for the phone, nearly dials. Stops herself with a rush of anger, directed inward, "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she mutters. 

 

It's only been a day, but the ache of missing Jen has already settled deep into her bones. She knows it'll never leave her. 

 

Instead of calling Jen, she double checks her alarm is set and plugs in her phone. She can still get another good chunk of sleep before she has to be up for her flight. 

 

It's 12:06 am. 

 

*

 

Everything goes smoothly with Judy's flight the next morning, and before she knows it, they're landing (she's still clutching her amethyst tightly in her fist, where it's been since take-off), and she's making her way outside to the pick-up area where a car is set to pick her up and take her straight to the interview. It's chillier here, and she shrugs into the jean jacket she brought. She didn't even pack a bag, as her flight back is already scheduled for that night, all she has is her purse and a folder with her resume and the letter of recommendation from Angela. It's been a long time since she's had an interview, and she's never had one for something this life-changing and necessary at this point; she's nervous. She gives the amethyst one last squeeze, then drops it into her purse. 

 

Judy's thinking about Jen, how much she could put her at ease with a few words or a simple touch. She tries to channel that energy, knows she only has herself now.

 

A black Dodge challenger pulls up to where she's standing, the window rolls down. "Ms. Hale?" the driver asks. 

 

She takes a deep breath, smiles brightly. "Yes!" 

 

It's about a 30 minute drive, and when Judy's nervous, she talks (even more than usual), so she gets to know Dale's whole life story. He's in his early fifties, married for thirty years, three grown children, two grandchildren (ages 2 and 4). He's lived in San Francisco his whole life, worked for this car service for about fifteen years. They get hired by various businesses around the city, and he enjoys the job, has always found driving relaxing- yes, even in city traffic. He loves getting to meet all kinds of new people. 

 

Judy answers when he asks about her purpose for being in town, but deflects back to him any questions about her personal life. There's nothing there but heartache. 

 

As they approach the building, Judy is relieved to see it's simple, modest, two stories. She's didn't expect a skyscraper for a family-owned business of Senior Assisted Living Centers, but still, the word "corporate" is a little intimidating, and not a world she's ever envisioned for herself. This is different. This can still feel like her.

 

Dale wishes her luck as she gets out of the car, and refuses the cash she tries to give him as a tip. "They pay me well. And you're going to need it after you get the job, cost of living here is no joke! Take care, Judy."

 

After a short wait at reception, Judy is quickly ushered into a conference room, where three people are sitting at a large table. They all introduce themselves after Judy hands them her resume and Angela's letter: Margo, who would be her direct supervisor, Ronald, head of H.R., and Greg, who has the same position she's interviewing for, but works with their centers in Nevada. If Judy gets the job, her focus will be on the California locations, and they would work closely together. He's a bit older, has kind eyes, and immediately Judy feels more at ease. Her nerves evaporate completely once they start asking her questions; she's always been able to turn on the charm, with a sprinkle of slight self-deprecation- the perfect combination to get people to like you. Her answers flow easily, she has them nodding along in agreement and laughing, and as the interview wraps up, Judy feels confident. 

 

Margo makes one last note on her notepad then looks up at Judy, "Normally we would send you home and call you in a few days with our decision, but we're in a bit of a time crunch. Do you mind waiting in the lobby while we discuss?"

 

Judy stands up, "Of course not!" and shakes each of their hands. "Thank you so much. It was wonderful meeting all of you." 

 

After about 10 minutes of waiting, Margo comes back and beckons for Judy to follow her. She can tell by the smile on her face that she got the job. 

 

It's a whirlwind after that; they want her to start ASAP. "Is there anything preventing you from being here to start by Monday? We will pay for your move, and can get you set up in a hotel while you find a place. Our H.R. department can provide a list of apartments for you to check out."

 

Judy feels her smile falter for a moment, "No. There's nothing keeping me. I will just need to drive my car up, I've actually already found a couple of places I like that are furnished. I don't have much stuff to move."

 

They discuss salary and logistics, and then Judy is back in a car to the airport and on a plane back home- actually, not home. It feels surreal, and she has to keep telling herself this is good, this is her life now, and she has to keep moving forward. She'll be making way more money than she ever has (which will be offset by the amount she'll be paying in rent for a studio apartment, but, regardless), and doing a job she believes she will love. That's more than some people can say for their lives, right? The emptiness inside her may never go away, the place she held for Jen, Charlie and Henry, but maybe it will become less painful as she fills it with other things. 

 

*

 

Over the next few weeks, Judy gets settled into a routine. She finds a furnished studio apartment only a few blocks from work, and since she doesn't have any moving expenses she needs paid for, they offer to pay her move-in fees and first month rent instead (this already makes her feel like they care, and that's the kind of people she loves working for). It's tiny, but it's big enough, and it's hers. She feels pride in it, feels pride and joy in being able to walk to work when the weather is nice, is trying to find joy in all she can because that's who she is, who she's always been. Her heart is broken, but like she told Jen months ago now, she's tired of carrying around so much pain. It's there, but it helps to focus on the positivity, too.

 

Judy gets a second job, at Painting with a Twist- because she thinks it will be fun, it will keep her occupied some nights and weekends, and the extra money will be helpful with life in San Francisco. It's not within walking distance, but it's a short drive. 

 

She loves both jobs, she's making friends, she's able to interact with all sorts of different people; kids, even, on Saturday morning painting classes. It's fun. She smiles, and laughs, and even means it- most of the time. 

 

So her heart aches when she has a young boy in a class around Henry's age, with a smile that lights up the room like his does. It aches when she goes to bed every night wishing it was Jen she was wrapping her arms around instead of a pillow, and she lets the tears fall. 

 

But she's trying.

 

*

 

One evening, Judy is alone in her apartment, finishing dinner, and feeling particularly homesick. She's not sure why she's had a really rough day, nothing out of the ordinary happened, but she's always had days here and there where self-pity was harder to keep at bay. This was one of those days. And with no work tonight to distract her, all she has is her thoughts. She thinks of Jen, of what they'd be doing, back when things were normal. It's a funny word to think of in terms of them- they were never anything close to "normal"- but there were perfect moments of happiness, of domesticity, regardless. She pours herself a glass of wine, imagines pouring one for Jen. Imagines what Jen is doing now. Could she be doing the same thing, thinking of Judy? "NO," Judy says out loud to herself, this is a train of thought that isn't good for her. Think about Jen, think about the boys, that's fine, it's impossible not to, but don't have hope.

 

She sits down on her couch, flips on the TV, downs her glass of wine. Her mind wanders again, she thinks of the boys- how is Holy Harmonies going? Does Charlie have a girlfriend? How's Christopher's wedding planning going? How's Karen's vlog?

 

Karen's vlog! Judy hasn't seen it- but Karen sent her an email with the link to her YouTube page where she's posting them. and Judy grabs her phone, scrolls through hundreds of promotional and spam emails to find it. Now that she's thought of it, she's desperate to watch it, to feel, even for a moment, a link to her old life. 

 

Judy finds the email, lets out a triumphant "Yes!" as she clicks the link, pouring herself another glass of wine. There are four videos posted so far, and Judy finds the first one, presses play. A simple black screen appears with "How Karen Got her Groove Back" scrolling across in large yellow script. There is tinkly, Jamaican sounding music playing. The screen fades and the music stops as Karen appears, sitting at what appears to be her kitchen table- Judy lets out a snort of laughter as she sees Karen's chosen accessory: a rastacap, in the colors of the Jamaican flag, complete with dreadlocks. 

 

"Hey, mon! Welcome to 'How Karen Got her Groove Back', a vlog where I plan to talk about my experience going through a divorce and getting back out into the dating scene. Some of you may recognize the name of the vlog from the classic nineties movie 'How Stella Got her Groove Back', which I recently watched for the first time. It was very inspiring. If you haven't seen it, the character of Stella isn't very lucky in the romance department. Sadly, I can relate as my husband, Jeff, recently left me for a man. I'm sure many of you have had something similar happen. In the movie, Stella takes a trip to Jamaica, where she meets the much younger Taye Diggs," Karen pauses and winks at the camera, "Oh yeah, ladies! Oh, and gentlemen. Anyway, he pursues her and that's how she gets her "groove back". Unfortunately, I can't afford to take a trip to Jamaica, but as you can see," she points to her head, "I've brought Jamaica to me! Also unfortunately for me, Taye Diggs hasn't found me yet!" She stops to laugh at herself for a moment and pauses, almost as if she expects some audience reaction or a laugh track to kick in. (Judy's laughing, too, but there's something missing- the sound of Jen's laugh pops into her mind- she hasn't heard it in so long. She hopes she's been laughing more lately. She hopes she's happy.)

 

Karen continues, talking about her running regimen ("If anyone wants a running buddy, let me know!") and how she's joined both Tinder and Bumble- she even goes through her profiles on her phone, encouraging her audience to join if they're looking to put themselves out there. After about 20 minutes, she signs off with, "Have a groovy day!"

 

Judy is getting tired, but has about a half glass of wine left to finish the bottle, so decides to pour it and start the second video. The same intro and music pop up to start, but when Karen appears, sans rastacap, she is teary-eyed. "Hi, everyone. After my first vlog last week, I received some comments accusing me of "cultural appropriation" because of the hat I was wearing. Once I googled what that meant, I felt terrible. As a minority myself, I would never want to offend anyone. I have nothing but respect for my Jamaican brothers and sisters, mon."

 

Judy has tears in her eyes from laughter as she puts down her phone and starts to get ready for bed, and she remembers the first thought she had when Karen told her about the vlog- that she and Jen would come up with a great drinking game for watching it. She can hear Jen now, "How about we take a drink every time we feel embarrassed for her? Actually, let's not do that, because we'd fucking die."

 

Judy falls asleep with a smile on her face. 

 

*

 

One morning, Judy is in a meeting with Margo and Greg, discussing their new partnership with local animal shelters (Judy's idea- she thinks the seniors volunteering at the shelters will be great for both them and the animals- everyone loves it), and their respective travel plans to get the program in motion when Judy's phone buzzes. She looks down to see who's calling- it's Ben. She feels a knot in her stomach, she hasn't spoken to him since Steve's body was found weeks ago- she tried calling him a few times after seeing the news, but he never returned her calls. Judy looks at Margo and Greg, apologetically, "I'm so sorry, but I need to take this."

 

Margo waves her towards the door, "Of course! Go ahead."

 

Judy steps out into the hallway, walks down to her office and closes the door, "Hello?"

 

"Hey, Judy. How are you doing?" 

 

"Hi, Ben. I'm doing well. Are you okay? I tried calling-"

 

"I know, I know. I'm so sorry about that. I'm not proud to admit that after they found Steve I went on a bit of a bender. I'm doing better now, though."

 

"Good! I'm glad to hear that," Judy swallows down the emotion building in her throat, "I'm so sorry, Ben. How is your family?" 

 

Ben sighs, "We are okay. As good as can be expected. I think Mom is accepting reality. But I wanted to tell you, the police finally released Steve to us, so we can have a funeral. It's going to be next Thursday. I can text you the details."

 

"Of course. I'll be there."

 

"Would you want to grab lunch sometime before? Catch up?"

 

"Actually, I moved. I got a promotion and I'm in San Francisco now. But I will definitely be in town for the funeral."

 

"Oh wow! That's great!" He sounds surprised, then laughs. "How is Jen surviving without you?"

 

Judy grimaces, "I'm sure she's just fine."

 

She quickly wraps up the call and heads back to Margo's office. Once she explains that there's a funeral she needs to attend, they work it into her travel plans. She'll fly to Fresno the next day, spend a couple of days training the staff there, then rent a car and head to Laguna Monday. She'll be able to work there Tuesday and Wednesday, go to the funeral Thursday, then head to San Diego before flying back to San Francisco. 

 

Judy makes sure to express her profound thanks to Margo, who gives her a hug. "We are all about family here. You're a part of our family- now go take care of yours."

 

Judy doesn't feel like clarifying that she doesn't have one.

 

*

 

Judy's trip to Fresno is a success. Everyone at the center there is super nice, and so are the people she meets with at the animal shelter; they're all very excited about the partnership, and Judy feels very proud of what she's responsible for developing. She decides to spend the weekend there instead of heading to Laguna, she figures the more time she has there, the more time she has to do something stupid. No matter how hard she's working on herself and her life, the longer she's in the same town as Jen, the more physically impossible it will become for her to stay away. 

 

After a weekend of checking out restaurants, seeing a movie by herself, and relaxing, Judy hits the road in her rental car Monday morning and heads south to Laguna. As she gets into town, she feels a pull she can't ignore. It's cosmic. A short drive-by the house before she checks into her hotel won't hurt, will it? She's in a rental car, surely no one will notice her. Judy feels a sense of nostalgia as she drives down the street... but, surprisingly, she feels okay. Maybe she's getting to the point where she can fondly look back on this time in her life, without pain.

 

That thought flies out the window as she gets closer to the house and sees Jen's car pulling in the driveway. Judy slams on her brakes and pulls to park on the side of the road, two houses down. 

 

All the breath leaves her lungs as she sees Jen get out of the car. She looks so beautiful, wearing her green blazer, jeans, and ankle boots. Her whole body tingles with the need to go to her, to wrap her arms around her, to ask if she's okay and tell her she loves her. She can't. She wraps her arms around herself, instead. 

 

She notices Jen is carrying something- it looks like a pie box from her favorite bakery. Well, what used to be her favorite, Judy thinks with a smile, as she remembers the first time she baked Jen a cherry pie. 

 

Jen had taken a bite, then looked up at Judy with disbelieving eyes, as Judy watched expectantly. "Well?" She asked.

 

"What the fuck you put in this? Crack?"

 

Judy threw her head back and laughed. "I won't give away my secret ingredients, but no, it's nothing illegal."

 

Jen nodded, and kept eating, "This makes every other pie I've ever had taste like shit. You've ruined me for other pie, I hope you know." She sounded hilarious talking with her mouth full.

 

Judy nodded, "Noted."

 

Judy's smile fades as Jen walks inside. She cherishes the last glimpse of her.

 

She hopes Jen enjoys the pie. She hopes she's happy.

 

*

 

Judy grabs some dinner and gets checked into her hotel, is getting settled for the night when her phone dings with a text message. 

 

It's from Jen's number. Hi Judy. It's Henry. Can u call me?

 

Judy feels a wave of nausea- did something happen? Did Jen see her today and freak out? Are they okay? She dials immediately.

 

"Judy!" Henry picks up after the first ring, sounding surprised and so happy. "You called!"

 

Judy feels weak with relief as soon as she hears his voice; it's obvious there's nothing wrong. "Hi! Of course I did. What's up? How are you?"

 

"I'm good. Pretty good. I really miss you! I really wanted to talk to you, I mean I have since you left, but Charlie told me not to bug Mom about it..."

 

"Yeah, yeah of course, he's right. And I miss you so much, too. But did you-" 

 

He cuts her off, babbling excitedly, "We had a new Holy Harmonies show, Chris says it was our best performance yet. I wish you could have seen it, I absolutely killed my solo last week, you would have cried for sure."

 

"Duh! Of course you did! And of course I would have cried," she pauses, "Henry, I have to ask- does your mom know we're talking? Did she say it's okay for you to use her phone?"

 

"No, I didn't ask her, but I miss you so much... I know she does too-" Judy feels hope bloom in her chest at that, can't help it; it's gone quickly as she hears the sound of a door opening on the other end of the line- Henry stops, and then his tone changes, he sounds guilty now, and his words aren't directed at her. "Mommy, I'm sorry, I just really needed to talk to Judy. Do you want to say hi?"

 

Judy jumps in, doesn't want Jen to have to answer that, doesn't want to know her answer, "Actually buddy, I have somewhere I need to be. I've gotta go."

 

"Oh, okay. You have to go? Do you have a date?"

 

"No!" Judy answers, feeling panicky for some reason- she doesn't want Jen to think that, doesn't want her thinking she's moved on, though she's not sure why. It's not as if Jen cares, as if she knows there was ever a hint of anything between them...

 

"Can I call you again soon?" Henry asks, all earnestness. 

 

Judy feels tears spring to her eyes at how much she misses him, how much she needed this, how much she wishes she could just keep talking to him, give him a hug. "Of course... but only if you get permission from your mom first. I love you, Henry. I'm so glad we got to talk."

 

"Yes, I'll ask permission next time. I promise. I love you, too. Bye Judy."

 

After they get off the phone, Judy looks at her phone, and sees it open to her texts with Jen. Right above the one from Henry, she sees the last text Jen ever sent her. 

 

I'll be home in 5 babe. 

 

She remembers the pure happiness she felt when she got that text. Things were changing between them, and she knew Jen never used emojis. To Judy, that red heart was the equivalent of Jen standing on a mountaintop, declaring her love.

 

Now it's mocking her, just a painful reminder of what she never got to have. 

 

Anger isn't an emotion Judy's ever been comfortable feeling; she never learned to channel it appropriately, and always pushed it to the side. Sadness and blaming herself have always been her go-tos, but for the first time in as long as she can remember, she feels rage. Not at Jen, never at Jen- but at the forces in the universe that always conspire against her- that always refuse to let her hang on to happiness.

 

As a surge of anger and sadness overcomes her, she deletes the entire text thread. 

 

Immediately, she is filled with regret; now she'll never be able to see the evidence that Jen cared for her ever again. She throws her phone across the room, lays down on the bed and clutches a pillow to her hollow chest, and sobs.

 

*

 

The next two days at work go well, Judy loves going to the animal shelter, and catching up with everyone at the center. She really misses them, and it makes her feel good that they're happy to see her, too. Angela makes sure to catch her and tell her what a great job she's doing. "Margo says you are absolutely killing it. She loves you. And I think you earned me some points for recommending you, so thanks for that." She winks at her, and Judy can't help but give her a hug. 

 

"Thank you, Angela. For believing in me so much. You don't know how much I needed it."

 

*

 

Thursday comes quickly, and Judy has been dreading it. She's honestly put all of her grief and guilt over Steve behind her, closed the door on that part of her life, but she knows she still needs to pay her respects to him and his family. 

 

It's a graveside service at the local cemetery, the same cemetery where Ted was buried. Judy's surprised when that thought doesn't affect her; she's successfully put that behind her, too. Judy keeps her distance, sits in the back. She sees Eileen, Mr. Wood, and Ben as they come in- the men look strong, but Eileen looks frail and distraught. She's weeping throughout the funeral. Judy also sees Heidi, who looks like she's due any day now. She does feel a twinge of pain at that, but only for the five babies she would have given anything to meet- she's happy for Heidi. She hopes she's handling this okay, the stress can't be good for her. She hopes she's the mother that baby deserves. 

 

When it's over, she hangs back, trying to catch Ben's eye. Even though she has no interest in facing Eileen, she needs to see Ben. He finally sees her when he has a break from talking to people, he smiles when their eyes meet and heads right over to her. He immediately gives her a warm hug. "Hey, Jude. I'm so glad you made it. You doing okay?"

 

She pulls back to look at him. He looks good, and sober, which is a relief. Ever since he mentioned his bender, she's been worried. She's always cared for him. "I'm good, Ben. How are you holding up?"

 

Ben puts his hands in his pockets, nods. "I'm doing well. It's awful, and I'll always miss Steve, he didn't deserve to die, but his life choices caught up with him. I'll be happy to head home and move on from all this."

 

"Mmm hmmm," Judy nods in agreement, can't bring herself to say anything else about Steve. "I'm glad you finally got closure."

 

Ben smiles, "So, San Francisco huh? Big time! How are you liking it?"

 

Judy feels a smile break out on her own face, "I love it. The job is a dream," it surprises her, how much she means it.

 

"That's great. I'm so happy for you, you deserve the best," something changes in his eyes, "How's Jen?"

 

Judy's heart clenches, "Um... I guess you didn't know we were in a car accident."

 

"No! What happened?!"

 

"It was a hit and run. Jen took most of the hit. She was in a coma for two weeks, and when she woke up, she'd lost a lot of memories. It was really rough."

 

Ben goes completely white. "Oh my God. That's so terrible... I'm so sorry to hear that. Where-" he coughs, "where did it happen?"

 

"You know the stop sign she was fighting to get put in that dangerous intersection near her neighborhood? It happened there. But it's okay. Health-wise, she's better, and that's all that matters." There's a few moments of silence, and Judy breaks it, "Well, I better get going. Goodbye, Ben." She reaches out and gives him one more squeeze.

 

"Yeah, bye, Judy. Take care."

 

As she walks away, she feels a sense of relief she didn't even realize she needed. This part of her life is over, for good. 

 

*

 

The rest of Judy's trip is great, she's never been to San Diego before, and it's beautiful. But she feels truly happy when she walks back into her apartment, feels happy to be home. It is home now.

 

The following Saturday, she works a long day at Painting with a Twist- kids' classes in the morning, and a rowdy Bachelorette party that night. It's such a big group that it takes two of them to lead it, Judy and a woman named Claire, who she really likes so far, in the brief interactions they've had. She's probably about 10 years or so younger than Judy, and funny, with bright red hair and green eyes. They have a lot of fun together, playing off each other and interacting with the increasingly drunk group of young women celebrating. 

 

"Hey," Claire says as they're cleaning up, "What are you up to now? Want to grab some dinner? I'm starving!"

 

Judy's eyes light up. Although she loves all the people she works with at both jobs, is friendly with all of them, she hasn't socialized with any of them outside of work. It would be nice to have a friend. "Sure! I'd love to."

 

Claire suggests a jazz themed restaurant and bar down the street, and they decide to walk. The weather is perfect, just a slight chill in the air. They do some chatting as they walk, Judy learning as much as she can about Claire- she's 29 (even younger than Judy thought!), from the Chicago area, and trying to get into software development. She's done some work on a few apps, but still waiting to get a break and work on something super successful, so she works as much as she can at this job in the meantime. "Plus, it's fun!" She says. She's a very positive person, Judy can tell. "Do you enjoy it?"

 

"Oh yeah. I'm a painter, or I was... not that you need much skill to teach these classes, but it's really fun for me."

 

Claire asks about her other job, so Judy tells her about it, as they reach the restaurant and are led to a table for two. "Would you ladies like anything to drink? It's half price bottle of wine night!" Their hostess asks.

 

Claire looks at Judy, eyebrows raised. "Um, no thanks, I'll have a Moscow mule," Judy answers. Something about sharing a bottle of wine feels too intimate. Claire orders a martini. They have a good time chatting, drinking, and eating, and Judy really enjoys the small jazz band playing. After her third drink, the long day catches up to her, and she's ready to call it a night. They pay their checks and head outside, shrugging into their jackets. Judy gets out her cell phone and opens the Uber app, "I'll probably just Uber home then get my car tomorrow, better safe than sorry. You want to share one?"

 

"No, that’s okay. I only live a few blocks away, I'll walk. You could come over if you want another drink?"

 

"Oh that's so nice, no thanks though. I'm exhausted," Judy looks down at her phone. Uber is 5 minutes away. She steps down close to the curb to wait, Claire following her closely. 

 

"No problem. Some other time."

 

"Of course!" Judy nods, and means it. She had fun. 

 

Claire looks down, then looks back up, almost shyly. "I've been wanting to ask you out since you first started work. I think you're so nice and funny and probably the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." Then she leans forward and presses her lips to Judy's- Judy is momentarily shocked but then leans into it. Claire's lips are soft and she smells good and it's been so long since Judy's had any kind of physical affection. It's nice. Claire brings her hand up to Judy's hair, tries to deepen the kiss, and that's when Judy pulls away, shaking her head slightly. She can't do this. 

 

Judy opens her eyes to see bright green ones staring back at her- they're pretty, but they're missing something- a hint of blue. "I'm sorry Claire, I- I can't-"

 

Claire looks mortified. "Oh my gosh, no, I'm sorry, did I totally read you wrong, are you not-"

 

"No, no. It's not that. I'm just... getting over a heartbreak. Trying to, at least."

 

Claire sighs, relieved. "I see. Bad breakup?"

 

Judy smiles sadly. "Something like that," there's an awkward pause between them, "but I think you're great, and I would love it if we could be friends."

 

Claire smiles at her. "I'd like that."

 

Judy has a dream about Jen that night. About the perfect color of her eyes, and her lips... though she can only imagine how soft they are.

 

*

 

Over the next couple of weeks, Judy gets even more comfortable in her new life. She's busy, and it can be stressful some days, but both jobs provide her joy, and that's all she can ask for. She hangs out with Claire again, who has seemingly accepted that they are just going to be friends. 

 

Judy talks to Henry a few more times, and this is her greatest source of joy. He always texts her first, then she calls him. He even puts Charlie on the phone once, and she feels a rush of affection as he sounds truly happy to be talking to her. (He won't answer her questions about whether he has a girlfriend, though. She thinks he probably does.) Henry is so excited to tell her all about his upcoming 5th grade graduation, including the song they'll be performing (Vitamin C, such a cliche- Jen is going to love that one). She feels happy at his happiness- it does break her heart to let him down when he begs her to come. She'd give anything to be there, to be sitting with them as her family. That's an image she has to let go of, hasn't fully been able to, yet. 

 

"What color is your cap and gown?" She asks him. 

 

"Blue. Like, royal blue. Why?"

 

"Oh, I just want to picture you in it. That color will really bring out your eyes."

 

"I know, right? I'll look dreamy."

 

Judy laughs, and her heart somehow feels broken and full. She starts painting Henry in his cap and gown as soon as they get off the phone. She finishes it a few days later, just in time to pay for rush delivery and have it arrive on the day of his graduation. It's the proudest she's ever been at something she created. 

 

The night of Henry's graduation, Judy sits on her couch, thinking of them. She knows how proud Jen must be. She misses her so much it hurts. 

 

*

 

A buzzing wakes Judy up from a deep sleep early the next morning, and she reaches for her phone, confused. It's not an alarm; she's off work today. It's still dark, and she doesn't even open her eyes to see who it is, just fumbles to answer it. 

 

"Hello?" 

 

"Judy," Jen chokes out, and as soon as Judy hears her voice, hears the emotion in it, she knows. Jen knows her, she remembers.

 

"Jen," Judy breathes, suddenly awake, wanting nothing more than to physically reach through the phone, touch Jen's face, take her hand. Her whole body is flooded with a warmth like she hasn't experienced in months.

 

"Jude, I-" Jen stops, takes a shaky breath, "I'm so fucking sorry. I miss you so much. Please, if you want to- please will you come home?"

 

Jen's sobbing, and Judy feels the tears on her own cheeks. There's the strangest sensation in her chest, like her heart is simultaneously shattering and healing. She knows there are so many things she should be thinking about- her jobs, her apartment, her life. There's so many things she should be asking Jen.

 

But she knew the answer before Jen even asked the question; the answer to anything Jen could ever ask of her. 

 

"Yes."

Chapter Text

"Hello?" Judy sounds barely conscious, but the pain Jen is feeling eases a tiny bit just from hearing her sleep-tinged voice. 

 

"Judy," she manages to choke out, can hear the emotion in her own voice, hopes Judy understands what it means; she doesn't know how to put what she's feeling into words right now. 

 

"Jen," Judy breathes, so full of affection it hits Jen full force in the chest, makes her ache with missing Judy even more than she already was. 

 

"Jude, I-" Jen stops, takes a shaky breath, then words tumble out of her, "I'm so fucking sorry. I miss you so much. Please, if you want to- please will you come home?" She's sobbing, trying to calm herself, is starting to feel like a fucking idiot for calling like this, so early in the morning when she's such a mess, she hasn't even processed what she's just said-

 

"Yes." It's immediate, and full of conviction, Judy's response; the relief and hope that Jen feels is just as immediate, until she realizes what's happened. This wasn't how this was supposed to go. She wasn't supposed to ask anything of Judy. 

 

"Shit," Jen mumbles after a moment of silence, guilt quickly overtaking the relief. 

 

"What's wrong?" Judy asks, voice small now; Jen's reaction hurt her, of COURSE it did... God, she's already fucking this up. Like she fucks everything up.

 

"Fucking shit, Jude, I'm sorry. I don’t know what to do here. I don’t know what to say. I didn't plan anything to say, obviously, I'm word vomiting all over you, I just woke up and I couldn't stand it anymore, I HAD to talk to you-" she's rambling, knows she's bordering on hysterics, doesn't know what words are going to come out of her mouth next, and thankfully, Judy knows. After everything, still knows exactly what she needs. 

 

"Jen," she says, calm and soothing now, "take some deep breaths for me, okay? Try to center your chi." Jen can hear the smile in Judy's voice, and one blooms on her face in response, warmth filling her chest, tears slowing as she does what Judy asks. She breathes. Breathing easier already, knowing Judy is listening, picturing Judy's smile. "Better?"

 

Jen nods, stupidly, then remembers she actually needs to speak. "Yes."

 

"Good. So, how are you?" 

 

Jen laughs softly, fondly, at the simplicity of Judy's question, as if it's just another day and this is a normal conversation. "Clearly, I'm great. How are you?"

 

"I'm better, just hearing your voice." Judy's words mirror Jen's own feelings, and she sighs in relief- Judy wants to talk to her. She realizes now how terrified she was that wouldn't be the case. 

 

"I don't- I don't really know where to start." Jen shifts to sit up in her bed, turns the lamp on. "Other than I'm so, so sorry."

 

"What do you have to be sorry for?" 

 

Jen huffs out a rueful laugh, "Judy I kicked you out! I totally forgot who you were! I can only imagine how I would have felt, if you didn't remember me, if you didn't know me." It really was too painful to think about.

 

"Jen, it wasn't your fault. You had a traumatic brain injury! You didn't know. And I deserved to be kicked out. I probably never deserved to be in your life in the first place, in your home."

 

Jen is enraged that Judy still feels that way, that she made her feel that way, again. "You KNOW that isn't true.  It is as much your home as it is mine. In every sense."

 

"Okay. What all do you remember?"

 

"I think I remember pretty much everything, Jude. I remember I'm a murderer. I remember I manipulated you to cover it up, to bury the body of someone you loved-" Jen has to pause to stifle a sob, the self-hatred rising from her stomach like bile.

 

"No," comes firm from the other end of the line, "we both made terrible mistakes. But you're not a murderer, and anything I did, I chose to do. If you remember those things, you know that I've forgiven you. If you don't, I'll remind you. We were moving past it. We were happy. Do you remember that?"

 

Jen's gaze shifts to the empty left side of her bed, her hand reflexively reaching out to touch it. "It's all I've been thinking about."

 

"Did you mean it?"

 

"Mean what?" There's so many things she could be referring to.

 

"When you asked me to come home."

 

"Of course I did, but..."

 

"But what?"

 

"It's not fair of me to call you after two months and ask that of you. How is your job? Are you happy with your life there?" Jen is trying, she's trying so hard not to be selfish, because she knows Judy, knows she'd do anything she asked, even if it's not what's best for her. 

 

"Do you want me?" Judy asks, matter-of-factly, and it's the last thing Jen expected to hear. There's something in her voice, something knowing, something pushing- in a way Judy's never spoken about their relationship before. 

 

As much as Jen has been wanting, she's still unsure she's ready to truly confront this, stalls, "What do you mean?", even though she knows. She knows exactly.

 

"I think you know." Shit. Judy isn't going to make this easy on her... and she shouldn't. 

 

Jen closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. She owes it to Judy, to herself, to be honest. They've lost too much time already, could have lost each other completely. She can't bear the thought. "Do you remember what I said? When you told me you needed more?" The memory comes back to her again, the look in Judy's eyes when Jen told her, "You'll get it."

 

"It's all I've been thinking about," Judy says softly, and Jen's heart clenches.

 

"I meant it. I promise you, I meant it. I'm so sorry I forgot. And, yes."

 

"I know you did. I believed you." She pauses. "Yes, what?" There's a quiet hope in Judy's question.

 

"I want you. In every way I can have you." There's a sense of freedom Jen feels, at speaking these words out loud, both herself and Judy hearing them. There's a long moment of silence, and an image of Judy's face pops into Jen's mind- detailed- a huge grin overtaking all of her features, delicate lines adorning her smile. Jen aches to touch them. She believes that's what Judy looks like right now, but the longer she doesn't respond, the more nervous Jen feels. "Jude?"

 

"Then I will figure it out. I'm coming home." There are tears in her voice, but Jen can hear the smile, too. 

 

"Are you sure that's what you want? You don't have to decide right now." She keeps her voice as even as possible, not letting the excitement creep in, still wants to give Judy an out, still feels unworthy of getting to have her back. 

 

"Jen, it's all I've wanted. You know I never would have left, right? If I didn't think it was the best thing for you?"

 

"Yeah, I know. But can you get it through that pretty head of yours that there's no way my life could ever be better without you? And if I break my brain again, just wait it out, okay?"

 

"I promise," Judy pauses, "I'm going to have to take care of some things today. Will you call me tonight? After the boys are in bed? There's so much I want to talk to you about. Most importantly, Karen's vlog."

 

Jen laughs, deep and hearty. "Absolutely. As long as we talk about anything BUT Karen's vlog."

 

"Ugh. Fiiiine." Jen can picture the pout on Judy's face. 

 

She wants to say "I love you", wants to scream it, but she knows that's something she needs to wait on, wants to do in person- they've said it before, but it has a different meaning now. So she settles on, "I'll talk to you tonight, Jude."

 

"Bye, Jen."

 

After hanging up, she plops back down on her pillow to take a breath. That was one of the most important conversations of her life, she knows, and she needs a few minutes to decompress before getting up to start the day. She brings her hands to her cheeks, they feel sore, and it takes her only a second to figure out why. 

 

She hasn't smiled so much in months.

 

*

 

Charlie notices right away, because of course he does. Jen is making toast and scrambling eggs, because she's figured out the right settings on the toaster and that it's really hard to fuck up making scrambled eggs if you just keep stirring, when she hears the boys come downstairs. "Good morning!" She calls as they settle onto the bar stools behind her. 

 

"Morning, Mommy!" comes Henry's immediate reply, but Charlie is silent, so she turns around to look at him. He's eyeing her suspiciously.

 

"What? Too cool to tell your mom good morning?"

 

"What's going on? You seem... happy. Plus you're making us breakfast, and not the kind that gets poured into a bowl."

 

Despite her mood, she can't help but flip him off. Role model of the year, of course. 

 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

 

Charlie nods, disbelieving. "Uh huh." He looks at her some more, and she turns back around to finish the eggs.

 

"If you'll excuse me, I'm trying not to screw up these eggs."

 

"Good luck with that," he snorts, then, "You talked to her, didn't you?" It's not accusatory, it's hopeful, and Jen has to quickly blink back tears before turning around. 

 

She sees Henry's eyes light up as he glances between them. "Who? Judy?!?"

 

Jen gives Charlie a look, and repeats, in a more serious tone this time, "I don't know what you're talking about." Nothing's been decided yet, no "how" or "when" of Judy coming back, and there's still the possibility she'll change her mind. Jen definitely can't give Henry hope only for it to be yanked away, not after what he's already been through. Charlie seems to sense the tone, he drops it; Jen is grateful for the millionth time he's matured so much.

 

After breakfast, the eggs being heralded as "edible" and the toast "not burnt" (Jen will take it), Henry goes to use the bathroom. Charlie picks up some dirty dishes from the table and carries them to the sink, Jen watching him over her coffee mug as she takes a sip. "Has hell frozen over? What's happening? Are you actually going to wash a dish?"

 

Charlie looks at her, smirking, as he dramatically grabs the spray nozzle and turns it on, "Clearly, hell froze over, you made breakfast and no one died. Well, not yet. Henry could be puking his guts out in the bathroom."

 

She smiles at him, "Hey, Char, I want to be honest with you."

 

He turns the water off, focuses on her completely. "Yeah?"

 

"I did talk to Judy. It was good. I just- I don't want to get Henry's hopes up. Or yours, for that matter."

 

"I can handle it, I'm not a kid," he insists, then his eyes soften, "I do hope she comes home, though."

 

"Yeah, me too." She does. She didn't mention getting her own hopes up, but they're sky high, and the fall could destroy her. Judy said she'd "figure it out", and Jen would trust Judy's word with her life, but after everything that's happened? She wouldn't blame her for a second if she didn't. 

 

"I mean, how many more bland breakfasts do we have to suffer through?" 

 

Jen flips him off for the second time in a span of thirty minutes. Might be a new record. 

 

*

 

Jen has an open house that afternoon, gets ready and stops at the store to get snacks, trying very hard to focus. It's a $3 million beach house, she's been working hard lately and this is a huge listing for her. But as important as this is in her professional life, she can't keep her mind from drifting to Judy. 

 

She checks her phone before driving to the house, nothing; she knew there wouldn't be,  she's supposed to call Judy tonight, but she's tempted to shoot her a text, just to check in. She doesn't. 

 

They hadn't had contact in so long, but now that they have, that she knows how she felt- how she feels, and she's acknowledged it, out loud, it's like the floodgates have opened. There's no going back now. She's needy, and it's gross.

 

Jen arrives about a half hour before the open house is set to start, and lets herself daydream a bit as she sets up the snacks in the kitchen. The commission she'd earn from this sale would be incredible- she's been making good money, anyway, and this would be damn near life-changing. She could set a huge chunk aside for Charlie's and Henry's college funds... could buy Charlie another car, hopefully this one would last a little longer... maybe a vacation with Judy could actually happen now, something all-inclusive, on a secluded beach... she remembers mentioning a "hut situation", and that would be amazing... she could definitely afford it... shit, she could afford a huge fucking diamond... WHAT. 

 

When that thought pops into her head, Jen stops in her tracks. "What the fuck am I thinking?" She whispers to herself. These are exactly the kinds of thoughts she can't be having. She hasn't seen Judy in months, she still lives several hours away, they haven't so much as KISSED and she's thinking about buying her a ring?! "When did I become such a lesbian?" 

 

"Jennifer?" Jen suddenly hears from behind her.

 

"Oh fuck ME!" She jumps. "Lorna? What are you doing here?"

 

"I have a client who is very interested in the property. I decided to bring him by personally, as a courtesy to you. Hopefully he'll make you a competitive offer."

 

"Oh," Jen tries to hide her shock, "well, thank you."

 

Lorna walks closer to her, lowers her voice, "Honestly Jennifer, yesterday I was concerned you were having some kind of mental breakdown," she studies Jen carefully, "and now I come in and find you talking to yourself, so that seems to confirm my suspicions."

 

"Jesus, Lorna, I'm fine, okay? I promise. Yesterday was just an emotional day for me. You know. I've always had a hard time with... graduations."

 

Lorna blinks at her, "No. I didn't know that."

 

"Yes, the pomp and circumstance of it all, always gets me."

 

"Okay, well-"

 

"Hello?" A woman's voice calls from the foyer.

 

"Sorry Lorna, gotta work! Find me in a bit with your client, okay? Thank you for coming." Jen high-tails it out of the kitchen, and it's a non-stop parade of people for the next two hours. A handful of them seem ready to make an offer. 

 

It feels like a day to celebrate, so Jen stops to get a nice bottle of wine on her way home. 

 

When she's pouring herself a glass in the kitchen, she lets herself think that she'll soon be pouring two.

 

*

 

It's about 9:00 by the time dinner is finished, cleaned up (meaning the Chinese take-out cartons are thrown away), a few games of Uno are played, and the boys are off to bed. Jen feels downright giddy as she changes into her pyjamas and settles onto the bed with her phone and glass of wine. Her emotions are in check, now, and she's determined not to start this phone call with, "So, when you coming back?", as much as she wants to. She's going to ask about Judy's life over the past two months, and she's going to listen. 

 

"Hi!" Judy picks up as soon as the phone rings, and it does something to Jen, makes her feel something, deep, that Judy is clearly excited to talk to her, too.

 

"Hey, Jude. How was your day?"

 

"It was good. Great. How about you? How was dinner?"

 

"Fantastic. Mr. Chow didn't disappoint."

 

"Well does he ever?!"

 

"Good point," Jen laughs, and it's amazing, how easy it is, still, just to talk. It always has been. "You know I could wax poetic about the fried rice for hours, but I want to hear about you. I want to hear about San Francisco. I want to know about your new job."

 

"Okay," Judy sounds pleased, "I've actually been working two jobs."

 

"'Working two jobs? Why does that sounds so salacious when you say it?"

 

Judy laughs, "No, nothing salacious. Unless you count leading painting classes mostly for drunk middle-aged women as 'salacious'."

 

"Really? One of those Painting with a Twist, bring your own wine places?"

 

"Yep. It's really fun. I don’t actually get to paint much anymore with my other job, so it was a way to still be able to do some teaching. With a very, very different kind of student population."

 

The thought of Judy directing increasingly drunk women in their painting makes Jen smile. "I bet you're great at that. Wish I could see it."

 

"Maybe I can give you a private lesson sometime. If you're lucky."

 

It's been so long since she's experienced Judy's flirting, and a warm blush immediately covers her cheeks. "Well I'm not going to turn that down."

 

"Obviously, you're not stupid."

 

"Obviously. Wow, Jude, you must have been really busy."

 

"Yeah, but it's been good. I wanted to keep my mind occupied, and cost of living in San Francisco is kind of ridiculous."

 

Judy's words have no malice behind them, of course, but Jen feels an immediate pang of guilt, about both of those things- tries to think of what she can say, if there's anything she can, opens her mouth but nothing comes out. Judy speaks up again after a few seconds of silence. 

 

"Anyway, I went and talked to my boss there today, I'm scheduled to work a couple of classes next weekend, one is a kids' class which is actually my favorite, but I told her those would be my last."

 

A lump rises suddenly in Jen's throat, happiness and guilt and so many other emotions bubbling up within her. Again, she has a hard time coming up with words. 

 

"Jen? Are you there?"

 

Jen coughs, "Yeah, sorry," she doesn't want to ruin the lighthearted mood of their conversation, "I'm just imagining you teaching a room full of drunk children."

 

"Oh, well for them it's more 'bring your own juice box'. But it can still get craaaazzzyyy."

 

Jen smiles, "I bet. Okay, well tell me about the other job. You got a promotion? I want to hear all about it."

 

So Judy tells her. Jen listens in awe as she talks about her interview, the position, her new boss and co-workers, the travel, the new programs she's come up with and implemented. Judy sounds happy, and more confident than Jen has ever heard her- she's always known Judy is smart, capable, incredible, so many other adjectives- but it brings her immense happiness that others are seeing these things and, more importantly, making Judy see them as well. 

 

As happy as it makes Jen to hear Judy talk about it, she starts to feel it, deep in her gut, even though it will kill her- she can't let Judy give this up. 

 

"...so, it's really just been a great experience."

 

"Wow, Jude, that's amazing. I'm so proud of you. So, so proud of you."

 

"Thanks, Jen," Judy says, and Jen can picture the small smile on her face, the one she wears when she lets herself accept a compliment, "I'm actually pretty proud of me, too."

 

"I can't ask you to give this up for me," Jen says, in a rush, before the selfishness takes over, "You can't, Judy. Listening you talk about this job- you're clearly in your element. I've never heard you sound so happy."

 

Judy scoffs, "Okay, first of all, you've never heard me talk about you, or the boys. I can, right now, if you want. I can tell you that just the thought of seeing you again has made me happier than any job ever could," she pauses, allowing Jen the chance to respond, but she's fighting back tears, can't. "Secondly, you're not asking me to give up anything. I make my own decisions and there's nowhere I'd rather be than with you. I called my boss, Margo- you'd really like her, her energy is just phenomenal- and told her I'm moving back to Laguna. She said she needed to think about it, and we'd talk more Monday, but I'm really hopeful I might get to keep the job. I have a whole pitch planned out, well it still needs a little work... but I'm going to try to convince her I can do the job from home. If it doesn't work out, I will have to at least give them two weeks notice, I owe her that much after all she's done for me. But in two weeks, I'm back there. As long as you're still sure that's what you want."

 

Jen won't lie, can't, if it's what Judy really wants. "Yes," she answers immediately, then pauses, shaking her head. "You're too good to me."

 

"No, I'm not. I'm just the right amount of good to you. I can find another job if I need to, Jen. I can't find another you. Or another Charlie. Or another Henry," Judy's emotion is palpable, and Jen feels it, too. "You have no idea how much I've missed you."

 

Jen reaches her hand to her chest, feels her heart beating. It still aches, a bit, with how much she misses Judy, even now, even though they're talking. "Yeah, Jude. I do."

 

"Okay. Well now that's sorted, and you know you're stuck with me, tell me about how you've been. I'm dying to know how everything came back to you."

 

Jen takes a deep breath, and tells her everything. Most of it, anyway. About her dreams. About Christopher, and Lorna, and Ben. How the boys have been doing, what a rock Charlie's been, how much Henry misses her. How much he loved his painting, how much she did, too. They talk about Steve a bit- Jen remembering, the guilt from it. Moving on from it. It truly seems like Judy has, and that makes Jen feel better about moving on, too. Jen tells Judy that she feels totally moved on from Ted, and she hopes that brings her some peace, as well. She leaves out remembering how much she loves Judy, how empty her bed has felt without her- wants to wait to tell her those things in person, still. 

 

Judy laughs her ass off when Jen tells her about her meltdown at Henry's graduation, and Jen mumbles, "Should have kept that to myself," while Judy pulls herself together. When she finally stops laughing, she starts humming, Vitamin C. "I hate you," Jen says, feeling the exact opposite.

 

They talk, and talk, and when Judy realizes what time it is, they both put on "The Facts of Life".

 

Jen doesn't remember saying goodnight and getting off the phone, but she wakes up the next morning, phone by her head, well-rested, and a smile on her face.

 

*

 

Jen's a nervous wreck on Monday, thinking about how Judy's day is going. Judy had walked her through what she planned to say to Margo the night before, and it was very convincing- Jen absolutely believed she could do her job from anywhere, and she could still travel to the different centers in her territory just as easily. Jen knows how much it means to her, even if she isn't entirely letting on, and her own stomach is in knots wondering what Margo will say. She even sends Judy a text that morning:

 

               Good luck today. I can't wait to hear about it later.

 

A couple of minutes later comes Judy's reply:

 

Thank you 💜

 

God, she's missed that fucking purple heart.

 

That evening, as soon as she picks up the phone and hears Judy's voice, she knows it went well. 

 

"Hello?"

 

"Hi!"

 

"Well?!"

 

Judy laughs, "Patient as ever, I see."

 

Jen's not amused. "Uh huh."

 

"Jen, she said we could work it out. She said there's no way she would lose me, and I can work from Laguna as long as I come to San Francisco once a month for a meeting. I'll travel to the centers just like I have been. But next Friday is my last day here at the office."

 

"Fuck yeah, Margo! You were right about her Jude, PHENOMENAL energy!" Jen is so happy, she knows she's shouting, doesn't care.

 

Judy laughs again, and it makes Jen's heart soar to hear it. "I just... kinda can't believe it."

 

"What can't you believe?"

 

"That I may get to have it all."

 

"You deserve it. And so much more," Jen means it, wants to give her everything, "I wish I could see you right now."

 

"You know, we could FaceTime."

 

"FaceTime? Isn't there like an age 25 cutoff for that?"

 

"Okay, Grandma, come on. I really want to see you, too. Let's just hang up and I'll call you back. Think you could figure out how to answer?"

 

"Aww, too bad you can't see me flipping you off right now."

 

"Bye! See you in a sec!" 

 

A second later, "Judy would like FaceTime" appears. Jen grabs her glasses from the island, slides them on, and clicks "Accept".

 

Suddenly, there she is. Jen can see herself, too, both of them there on the screen, together, and for a moment they just wave at each other, grinning stupidly. 

 

"You did it!" Judy applauds her.

 

"Yeah yeah, well done me. Had to put my glasses on to see what button to click."

 

"I love it. Your sexy librarian look really does it for me."

 

Jen just smiles some more, staring at her Judy, who's flirting with her like they've never stopped. She takes her in, and notices a slight difference. "Your hair is longer! You look so beautiful." She does, and though Jen knows she's in love with her, has known it for awhile now, she's been so lost in the deep well of emotions she's been feeling that she forgot how attracted to Judy she was. Is. Seeing her now, even on a tiny screen, the warmth that floods her whole body reminds her. "So beautiful," she repeats, as she stares some more, can see she's wearing one of her patented floral dresses, a hint of cleavage peeking through before the screen cuts off. 

 

"Thank you," Judy grins even bigger, and then Jen hears the door open. It'll be the boys, and Jen wishes she'd thought about what to tell them- but she feels at ease now. They'll both be so excited Judy is coming home. She thinks, maybe, it's all going to work out.

 

They call out greetings to Jen, but she knows their focus will shift as they come up behind her, in 3...2...1...

 

"Judy!!!" Henry practically yells, grabbing the phone from Jen's hand. "Hi! Your hair has grown!"

 

She hears Judy laugh, "Hi bud! Hey, yours has, too! Going for more of a scruffy look?"

 

"Hey Judy! How'd you manage to convince Mom to FaceTime? Or was it a butt dial?" Charlie chimes in.

 

Jen can't even be mad their conversation got cut short- she just settles back onto the barstool and watches as Henry and Charlie both fawn all over Judy. The smile on her face feels like it's becoming permanent.

 

She's recalibrating again, just like when she was getting her memories back- but this time, she's letting herself believe that this is actually going to happen- that they're all going to be together, be happy. It feels unfair, after everything she's done, that she gets to feel this way, like Judy said "have it all"- but she's done fighting it. Life's too short. 

 

*

 

Jen is busy over the next couple of weeks, working hard with Lorna to close on the beach house for her client. Papers have been signed, and the closing date is in a month, they just have to work through any issues that arise with the inspection and the appraisal. The client is very motivated, and Lorna has actually helped make the process go smoothly- the commission is so close, Jen can taste it. (She's also glad for the distraction of work, otherwise she'd probably just be sitting at home, staring at the door until Judy walks through it.)

 

It's Wednesday, and Judy's due home on Saturday. Jen's wrapping up a meeting with Lorna, they've just discussed the inspection and Lorna's client wants a couple of fixes she knows her client will be amenable to. "Thanks so much, Lorna! I'll be back in touch after speaking with my client but I don't foresee any issues," Jen stands up when Lorna reaches out to touch her arm. 

 

"Jennifer, do you have a moment?"

 

Jen looks down to where Lorna's hand is on her, a little surprised at the physical touch. "Sure, but not a long moment. I have to get to the tailor for my final fitting for Christopher's wedding." She sits back down.

 

"Oh it won't be long. I just have to ask, has there been a change in you recently? You look well. The bags under your eyes are... less pronounced."

 

"Well that's quite the compliment, thank you Lorna!" Truly, for Lorna, it is, "Actually, yes. And I should probably tell you, Judy is moving back home."

 

Lorna nods, "Well, I can't say I'm surprised. I have always sensed something between the two of you, didn't think you'd be apart long."

 

Jen stands again, "Yep, well, I've-"

 

"And I know this doesn't matter to you, but I approve."

 

Jen stops, mid-sentence, closes her mouth as she stares at Lorna, trying to figure out if this is sincere. Lorna's gaze back is steady, and Jen can see that it is. It shocks her to her core when she realizes- it does matter. She reaches her hand down to place it on Lorna's shoulder, gives it a squeeze. "Thank you, Lorna."

 

*

 

Jen is at the tailor, admiring herself in the full-length mirror; she's been working out, and it's paying off- she looks good. She turns to look at her back when her phone dings from her purse. She reaches down to grab it, takes a look and smiles. A text from Judy. 

 

Will you send me a picture of you in your dress? Please? 🥺

 

Jen shoots back a reply, doesn't bother to correct her. 

 

                  Sorry babe. You'll just have to wait and see it in person.

 

She puts her phone back in her purse when there's a knock at the door. "Jen? Are you decent in there?" Christopher calls. Jen opens the door and he looks her up and down, letting out a wolf whistle. "Damn girl. You're going to upstage me!"

 

Jen laughs, "Impossible!" She gives him a look when she sees Adele in his arms. "Oh, Lord."

 

"What? Adele needed a final fitting, too! Doesn't she look stunning?" Adele is wearing a black tux with a bow tie, eerily similar to Jen's. 

 

"Okay, how did you do that?"

 

Chris grins, "Custom made! Obviously, you know she can't wear-

 

"Synthetics. Yeah, I know. Well Chris, your dog might upstage all of us." They share a smile, and Jen reaches out to grab his hand. "I'm so happy for you."

 

"Thanks, Jen. I'm so happy for me, too. Now let me go grab the tailor- I think your jacket might need to be taken in a bit!"

 

He turns around to leave, but she grabs his hand again. "I actually have a question to ask. Is it too late for me to add a plus one?"

 

Christopher whips back around, eyes wide. "Judy?!"

 

Jen nods.

 

He lurches forward to give her a hug, Adele awkwardly sandwiched between them. "Of course. I'm so happy for you."

 

*

 

That night, as Jen is tucking in Henry for bed, she decides it's time to tell him. "Boop, I have some news to share with you."

 

He leans up a bit, intrigued. "What is it?"

 

"Judy's coming home this weekend." It's a reflex, her smile, every time she mentions it, thinks of it.

 

Henry's grin looks like it could split his face in two, "For a visit?! Yay!"

 

Jen's heart leaps into her throat at his excitement over the thought of her visiting. "Nope," she shakes her head, "for good."

 

His mouth drops open wide as he sits up, crashes into Jen and wraps his arms around her. "YES!!!!!" he whoops. 

 

After she gets him settled down again, Jen heads down the hallway, knocks on Charlie's door. He's playing a game on his laptop, sound turned low. 

 

"Can I talk to you for a sec?" 

 

"Sure," he says, pressing a few more buttons, "You finally gonna tell me Judy's coming home?" He looks up at her and smirks. 

 

She stops short of his bed, "How did you-"

 

"Oh come on. I'd have to use a power tool to unscrew your smile the last couple of weeks. Plus I just heard Henry celebrating like a little girl."

 

Jen shakes her head in disbelief. "Well, yes, smart ass. She's coming home this weekend."

 

"Good," he says, simply, looking back to his game. 

 

Jen leans down to ruffle his hair. "I'm so proud of you, Char. Good night." She's walking through the door when she hears his reply.

 

"I'm proud of you too, Mom."

 

*

 

It's Saturday.

 

Judy called Jen at 9:00 a.m. to tell her she was hitting the road. This puts her ETA at about 4:00 p.m.

 

"Drive safe," Jen told her.

 

"I will. I can't wait to see you."

 

Jen felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest when she'd replied, "Me too."

 

Now, Jen and the boys are in the kitchen, preparing a "welcome home" dinner for Judy- Henry's idea (Jen wishes she could claim it).

 

"Thanks for giving us the hard, dangerous job by the way," Charlie snarks, as he and Henry chop the vegetables. 

 

"Yeah, try not to cut off any appendages, you two. And, hey, I'm trying to figure out how to boil these giant noodles, thank you!"

 

"Oh yeah, heating up water. So tough."

 

They finally, after what feels like hours, get the lasagna prepped and put into the oven. Jen looks up at the clock- 3:57. The excitement and nervousness she's feeling is enough to make her nauseous, and she sits down to catch her breath. 

 

Just as she does, she hears the door open. "Knock knock?"

 

Jen looks up and it feels like her heart stops when she sees Judy. She can't help the way her eyes travel up and down, taking her all in- it's so much better than seeing her on a phone screen. She's dressed comfortably, for the drive, well-worn jeans and a white sleeveless blouse. Bangs falling across her forehead, hair falling well beyond her shoulders now. Jen is stuck for a moment, but the boys aren't. Henry reaches her first, and Jen is surprised Judy doesn't topple over from the sheer force of his hug. "Oof!" Jen hears softly as Henry wraps his arms around her waist. "Judy! I missed you so much!"

 

Jen's legs finally feel stable enough for her to stand, and as she moves closer she sees the tears on Judy's cheeks. "I missed you, too." She smiles down at him as he looks up at her, pure adoration in both of their eyes. 

 

As Henry pulls back, Charlie steps up. "Welcome home." Tears spring to Jen's eyes as he gives Judy a big hug, whispering something to her, Jen can't hear. Judy doesn't respond, just nods, and when he pulls back, Judy gives him a blinding smile.

 

Jen walks closer, puts a hand on each boy's shoulder as she reaches them. "Why don't you two start unloading Judy's car? Any art supplies can go in the guest house, clothes and everything else goes upstairs to our room." Judy meets her eyes, surprise there- they didn't discuss this specifically, but Jen wants it to be clear from the get-go.

 

"Okay!" Henry answers happily and Charlie nods, then they head outside.

 

"Jude," is all Jen can manage as she pulls Judy to her, arms wrapping around her shoulders as Judy's circle her waist. Jen buries her face in Judy's soft hair. The ache in her chest has eased, bit by bit, since the morning she heard Judy's voice two weeks ago. Now, as she inhales, lungs filling up with oxygen and Judy, she feels like she can finally breathe.

 

Jen pulls back a bit, and Judy does the same, just enough to look at each other, arms not loosening their grip. There are tears on Judy's face, and when she reaches her hand up to Jen's, fingertips softly brushing along her cheek, Jen realizes she's crying, too. 

 

"Hi," Judy smiles. Now it's Jen's turn to bring her hand up, thumb running across those smile lines. 

 

"Hi." Jen finds herself looking at Judy's lips, thinking about how much she wants to kiss her- she's waited far, far too long. Judy seems to know what she's thinking, she cups Jen's cheek softly and closes her eyes. Jen closes hers, fingers on Judy's jaw as she leans in, heart pounding-

 

Just then, the boys barge through the door, loaded down with bags and clothes. Jen's eyes pop open, and Judy's are staring back at her. "Fuck," Jen mutters, feeling herself deflate in disappointment, but Judy just gives her a reassuring smile and squeeze before stepping away. 

 

Judy rushes over to grab some clothes out of Henry's arms, he looks like he might topple over. "Thanks, Hen! I just left these on the hangers so they could go straight into the closet..." she looks at Jen, unsure, questioning. 

 

Jen nods, "I cleared out some space for you. Let's get this stuff upstairs."

 

By the time they get Judy's car unloaded and are back downstairs, the oven timer is beeping. Jen grabs oven mitts and takes the lasagna out. "It looks good... I think."

 

"What's this?" Judy asks, coming up behind her.

 

"Well, we found your vegetable lasagna recipe, and thought you'd be tired from your drive today. We wanted to make you dinner," Henry smiles proudly.

 

"Mom was okay sacrificing our fingers, but I think it turned out pretty good," Charlie adds as he opens the fridge to take out the (pre-made) salad. 

 

"Okay, just to clarify, there are no fingers in the lasagna," Jen glares at Charlie before turning to grab two wine glasses out of the cabinet, smiling to herself as she does. 

 

"That is SO sweet. What can I do to help?" Judy asks.

 

Jen makes a "shoo" motion with her hand, "Nothing. You go sit down at the table, I'll bring you a glass of wine in a second."

 

The look of pure happiness Judy gives her in response is almost enough to knock Jen on her ass. It's overwhelming, really, all of the emotions flowing through her body. Five minutes later, when they're all sitting down to eat and Jen looks around the table, at her family, she knows she wouldn't change a thing. 

 

Judy thanks them repeatedly for the meal, commenting on how delicious it is, and Jen feels pretty proud- it turned out really well. She finds herself mostly listening as Judy and the boys catch up. Henry asks how it's going with the animal shelters, and Jen is surprised for a second before she remembers they've been keeping in touch. 

 

"It's been going so well. Everyone loves the partnership. I'm working on a new program now, actually."

 

"What is it?" Charlie asks, mouth full of salad. 

 

"We're working on getting young adults and students who need community service hours to come volunteer at the centers. Hang out with our residents, play games with them, that kind of thing."

 

"Can anyone volunteer? Even if you don't need community service hours?"

 

Jen's eyes snap to Charlie in surprise, pride swelling in her chest.

 

Judy nods, "I'm sure that could be arranged."

 

"Cool," he takes a sip of water, "I'd be down to school some old people in checkers."

 

Judy grins at him, "Oh yeah? Real Bobby Fischer, are you?"

 

"Huh?" Comes Charlie's confused response.

 

Jen bursts out laughing, joy bubbling up from deep within. "That's chess, Jude."

 

Judy looks at her, taking a sip of wine and shrugging adorably. "Tomato, tomahto."

 

"I don't think that's the same concept."

 

"Well, we can just agree to disagree on that one."

 

They're smiling at each other, like fools, Jen knows, and it's so easy. It's like Judy was never gone. 

 

After finishing dinner and cleaning up, they all move to the living room, talking in between occasionally watching the marathon of "American Ninja Warrior" Henry's put on. Jen and Judy both have an arm slung on the back of the couch, fingers touching lightly, though there's lots of space, and Henry, between them. When Jen notices Judy yawning for about the twelfth time, she turns off the TV and stands up. "Alright, time to head upstairs."

 

The four of them walk upstairs together, and Charlie and Henry head to their rooms. "I'll be right there, okay Henry?" Jen tells him.

 

"Okay!"

 

Jen and Judy get to the bedroom, and Jen points to the dresser, "I cleared out the bottom two drawers for you. I figured-" she gasps as Judy spins her around, and immediately presses her lips to hers, before pulling away after a moment. It's nothing more than a lingering peck, really, but Jen feels her lips on fire, regardless. She brings her hand up to touch them as she looks at Judy.

 

"Sorry," Judy whispers, eyes bright, slow smile creeping onto her face. "I couldn't wait."

 

Jen's face is hot, and she shakes her head a bit to break out of the fog, "Never apologize for that," she smiles. "If you feel like doing some unpacking, go ahead. I'll be back... as quickly as possible." She heads to Henry's room instead of grabbing Judy again, because once she does, she won't want to let go.

 

When Henry is safely in bed, she practically speed walks back to the bedroom. Judy has changed into her robe, and is putting folded clothes from a suitcase into her drawers. Jen walks to stand next to her, shoulders brushing, and opens a drawer to pull out her pyjama pants and t shirt. Judy looks up at her and smiles, doesn't say anything, but as their eyes meet, and Jen smiles back, she feels a rush of pure love. 

 

She gets changed, goes to use the restroom and brush her teeth, pads over to the bed, pulls the comforter and sheets back and crawls in, propping her head back on her pillow. Judy is still unpacking, and Jen thinks maybe she's screwing with her now. "You going to color code your clothes tonight, Jude, or are you gonna come here?"

 

"And... done!" Judy closes the drawer with a flourish. She walks to her side of the bed, takes her robe off and lays it on the foot of it, like she always does. Before, Jen wouldn't let her eyes linger when Judy was left only in her camisole and underwear; she's done with that pretense now. She's perfect, and Jen stares at her legs, for as long as she can, before Judy crawls into bed. She scoots over, close, puts her pillow right next to Jen's, lays on her side to face her. "Hi."

 

Jen turns so they're face to face, hand immediately finding Judy's cheek, hair. She twines some between her fingers as she studies her face. "I can't believe you're here. I missed you... I missed you so much."

 

Judy closes her eyes, leans into Jen's touch. "I missed you, too. Every day. When you were in the coma, all I did was hope and pray we'd be able to be here, like this again." She opens her eyes, they're glistening with tears, and Jen feels a stab to her chest.

 

"God, Judy I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

 

"No," Judy covers Jen's hand with her own, "That's not what I meant. I'm just thankful.  We're here now." She looks so tired, but so genuine, and so beautiful. Jen has never loved anyone more. She leans in to kiss her. Jen's kissed a couple of women before, but it's been decades, and nothing like this. Judy's lips are so soft, so pliant, and when Judy hums and moves to tangle her hand in Jen's hair, increase the pressure of their kiss, Jen feels it everywhere.

 

Jen moves her hand to wrap her arm around Judy's back, and Judy hooks her leg around the back of Jen's thigh, simultaneously pulling each other closer. Judy opens her mouth, Jen does the same, and when Judy's tongue touches hers for the first time, she can't stop the moan from escaping her- it feels like she's died and gone to heaven. 

 

It's so fucking hot, kissing Judy like this, languid, there's no sense of urgency as they enjoy the taste and feel of each other. Judy's hands drawing patterns on Jen's back, reaching down to graze her ass, which Jen really, really likes. Her own hands can't decide where to settle, Judy's hair, her back, her neck, they run over her perfect breasts (she can't wait to pay those the attention they deserve, later) which makes her gasp, Jen notes, will want to hear THAT as much as possible. They pull back to breathe, to stare, and Judy's lips look so plump and red that Jen has to go back in for more. She can tell they won't go any further than this tonight, she knows Judy's exhausted, but this is perfect. She's never, ever experienced a make-out session like this, and she feels like a lovesick teenager. It's exhilarating. If it weren't for the ache and growing wetness between her thighs, she would happily do this all night. Or forever. 

 

Their kisses slow, and Judy pulls back, her pupils are blown, cheeks flushed, and Jen has never seen anything so gorgeous. She says as much, and Judy replies, "Well fuck, Jen. You should look in a mirror right now," then leans in for one more soft kiss. ('God, she's sexy when she cusses,' Jen thinks.) Judy pulls back again and rests her forehead against Jen's. "That... was the most incredible first kiss of my life."

 

Jen nods, subconsciously licks her top lip. "Um, yeah. Understatement."

 

Judy smiles, yawns, "You ready to get some sleep? I'm sorry, I've had such a long day. Plus I've been waiting to hold you for months."

 

"Absolutely." 

 

They lay their pillows flat, and Jen takes one more long look at Judy before rolling over. It's so hard to tear her eyes away from her face. 

 

Judy spoons her, soft breasts pressed to her back, legs tangled together, right arm underneath Jen's pillow, left arm snaking around her waist. "Good night, Jen," she whispers, into Jen's ear. Jen grabs Judy's left hand and moves it under her shirt, places it on her breast. They've never done this before, always stayed on top of clothes when cuddling, but Jen wants Judy to know there are no more lines. Judy inhales sharply, and Jen trembles as her hand moves gently along her scars, fingers caressing them, then gives Jen's breast a light squeeze, and leaves her hand there. Jen shivers as Judy places soft kisses on her neck. "This feels so good," Judy says as she tries to push herself even closer. 

 

"Mmmm-hmmm," is all Jen can respond. She feels a low throb, and it's thrilling, feeling this want. She wants to move Judy's hand lower but can tell she's so close to sleep. Jen can wait. It's pleasant, only slightly torturous, a steady thrum along with the beat of her heart, makes her feel alive in a way she hasn't felt in so long. Jen shifts her focus, takes it all in... Judy's nose buried in her neck, breath tickling her. Their legs intertwined, Jen wishing she'd taken her pyjama pants off. (Next time.) Judy's cool, soft hand on her chest, getting warmer.

 

Jen can't get over how perfectly they fit, how happy and complete she feels. She realizes- for months she's been struggling to understand her life, thinking there were hundreds of puzzle pieces she needed to put together for it to make sense. 

 

It turns out there were only two.

 

*****

 

Judy wakes on her stomach to a soft hand rubbing her back, then gently gripping her arm, rolling her onto her side and into a warm embrace. The comforter wrapped tight around them, a snug cocoon. She hasn't registered where she is yet, hasn't reached that level of consciousness, but it's instinctual, the way she leans back into the touch. 

 

Her eyes open and she blinks a few times, it's not pitch black but the sun isn't quite up- dawn is starting to break. Judy has always loved this time of day, how it represents a clean slate, something she's needed often in her life. When Jen mumbles a "Good morning" in her ear, squeezes her tighter, Judy thinks she's never been so happy for the start of a new day. 

 

Judy takes one of Jen's hands in hers, brings it up to her lips, kisses her knuckles. "The best morning," she murmurs.

 

They stay like that a few minutes, and Judy feels herself start to doze off again when Jen starts talking, softly. "Every morning since the accident I'd wake up reaching out for something. I didn't know what at first... but it felt like there was a hole in my chest. I didn't even know who you were, Jude, and I missed you." 

 

The emotion in Jen's voice brings tears to Judy's eyes, and she hears it in her own when she replies, "I'm here." Suddenly all she wants is to be closer, can't possibly be close enough, pushes her hips back then mimics Jen's action from the night before- pulls Jen's arms around her even tighter, takes a hand and moves it up to her chest. Jen sighs, almost sounds like in relief as she squeezes Judy's breast, runs her thumb lightly over her nipple. Judy immediately feels her body respond, nipple hardening as she gasps slightly. Right by her ear, Jen also sucks in a breath as she feels it, too. 

 

"I love you, I need you to know how much I fucking love you," Jen whispers, and Judy's throat is tight, all she can do is turn around in Jen's arms and look at her in wonder. She wraps her arms around Jen and pulls, practically crushing their bodies together, and it feels divine- she can tell by the look in Jen's eyes that she feels it, too. 

 

Judy brings her hand up to Jen's face, brushes her thumb over the scar near her eyebrow. She's staring at her eyes, can't look away. "I thought about your eyes so much. I dreamt about them, and I could never do them justice in my mind." Jen doesn't respond, is just staring right back, Judy can feel her breath deepening. Next she takes her index finger and runs it down Jen's nose. "And your nose! How can it also be so perfect? I wish I could shrink myself down and use it as a ski slope." Jen laughs at that, low, it rumbles out of her chest, Judy vibrates with it. Then her thumb down Jen's lips, they part a bit as she passes them, stops at her chin and moves her hand across to her jaw, leaves it there, splays her fingers on Jen's neck. "I also dreamt about your lips, but I was just guessing. Now I finally know what they feel like-"

 

"Fuck," Jen breathes out, cuts Judy off by closing the inch between them, lips on hers, quickly opening and the kiss becoming wet, passion overtaking them both. Judy's body is singing, fire building low in her stomach, spreading everywhere. Last night was amazing but she was so tired; now the desire she's felt for Jen for so long, since they met, really, is bubbling up and she can't contain it, doesn’t have to anymore, and it's indescribable. 

 

She's worked a leg between Jen's thighs and Jen is slowly grinding on it, Judy took notes last night, reaches down and grabs Jen's ass, pulling her further into the friction and Jen breaks away from their kiss to let out a moan. "Oh, God," she throws her head back. Judy takes advantage, lips instantly finding her neck, kissing, licking, teeth on her collarbone. 

 

Judy moves her hands back up to Jen's hips, gives them a squeeze, then runs her thumbs under the waistband of her pyjama pants. They are really quite the nuisance. She pulls her lips away from Jen's skin, tough as that is, and says, "You know, you should work on wearing less to bed."

 

Jen opens her eyes, they're wild, and Judy feels herself become even wetter than she already is at the sight. "You should work on talking less," Jen retorts.

 

"Noted," Judy laughs, then pulls at Jen's pants again with her thumbs, "but could we...?"

 

"Yes," Jen eagerly reaches down, struggles for a moment, lets out a huff of frustration, "Oh fuck OFF!" she growls as she finally kicks free from her pants. 

 

Judy's giggling, can't help it, it's such pure happiness she's feeling, and Jen is back on her, kissing her, gets mostly teeth, "Shut up," mumbled against her mouth, but there's only happiness behind those words, too. 

 

"Okay," Judy agrees, then her mouth is on Jen's again, will never tire of it, bites down on her bottom lip a bit, testing, darts her tongue out to lick it when Jen gasps. Judy grabs the back of Jen's knee, hooks her leg around her, and Jen watches as Judy reaches down between them, eyebrows raised in a silent question, Jen nods immediately and Judy's hand goes into her underwear. She moans when she feels how soaked Jen is, fingers touching her gently, "So wet for me."

 

"Been like that since last night. You're so fucking hot," Jen's husky voice makes Judy shudder and she pushes her fingers further down, adds more pressure. Jen lets out a strangled noise as Judy finds her clit, rubbing in slow, wet circles. "Ffffffff-" she starts before biting her lip to quiet herself, squeezing her eyes shut. 

 

It spurs Judy on, seeing, hearing, feeling Jen like this, it's something she didn't think she'd ever get to experience, and all she wants is to make her come undone. She slowly pushes two fingers inside, as deep as she can, and Jen's eyes pop open. "Yessss," she hisses quietly, as Judy pumps her fingers in and out, heel of her hand pressing into Jen's clit with each thrust. She adds one more finger, and the guttural noise Jen makes lets Judy know she approves. Jen's grinding her hips, panting hard, but the angle isn't perfect, on their sides like this, and they're still wearing too many clothes, Judy knows it can be much better. She stills her movements, and Jen whines.

 

"Baby, can we-" Judy starts.

 

"No!" Jen nearly shouts, "Don't stop. Don't ever fucking stop." Her heel is digging into the back of Judy's leg, fingers digging into her arm, there's a possessiveness and need in her eyes that makes Judy feel even crazier in her desire, and when has she ever been able to deny her? 

 

Judy leans forward, throwing her weight against Jen until she's on her back, crashes their lips together at the same time she slams her fingers back into Jen. Jen wraps her arms around her, pulling her as close as possible, hips pumping wildly now, and Judy can tell by her movements and breathing that she's close. She curls her fingers on each thrust, pressing into her clit, hard, and suddenly Jen's back is arching, walls clenching around Judy's hand, mouth open in a silent scream. Judy slows her hand until she comes to a stop, waiting until Jen's done to pull out her fingers. Jen lies there on her pillow, eyes closed, breathing deep, and Judy props up on her elbow to watch her, left hand sneaking under her shirt to trace patterns on her stomach. "Can't believe I didn't get this shirt off you."

 

Jen opens her eyes lazily, slow grin spreading over her face as she brings up a hand to push a stand of hair behind Judy’s ear. "Next time."

 

Judy smiles at the implication, already can't wait for all the next times, then sobers a bit as she takes in Jen- the bright eyes, flushed cheeks, disheveled hair. The look of happiness on her face. "You are the most beautiful creature I've ever seen."

 

Jen shakes her head, "You should look in a mirror right now." Judy smiles at hearing her words from the night before. Then Jen leans up to grab her face, kissing her hotly, pushes her down onto her back and throws a leg over her waist to straddle her, all in one fluid motion. Judy lets out a yelp of surprise, excitement coursing through her as she looks up at Jen. 

 

"Wow. That was, like, very well choreographed. I'm impressed."

 

Jen shrugs, "Dance background, very helpful." She leans back a bit to grab the bottom of Judy's camisole. "Can we get this off? I need to see you." Judy nods, reaches down and pulls it off, watching Jen's face. How her eyes darken a bit, mouth dropping open, licking her lips as her hands immediately find Judy's breasts. Judy closes her eyes, sighing softly as her hips reflexively lift up at the touch. "God, Jude, there are just no words to describe you. Or describe how it felt for you to finally fuck me."

 

Judy opens her eyes, watching Jen as she kneads her breasts, thumbs her nipples. Her words have as much of an effect on her as her actions. "Oh yeah? I'm sure you could come up with something."

 

"Well... it was mind blowing. Earth shattering. Life changing," she takes a nipple between her fingers, gives it a pinch, and Judy gasps, feels a bolt shoot straight between her thighs. "Oh, you like that?" Judy nods, and Jen does it again. "And you..." Jen leans down to kiss her neck, trails to her chest, takes a nipple it her mouth, sucks, then bites gently as Judy starts to writhe beneath her, desperate for more contact now. "Are incredible. Stunning. Perfect," she moves to Judy's other breast, repeats her actions, "The best, most loving person I've ever known."

 

Judy groans as she tangles her hands in Jen's hair. "If you keep up this dirty talk, you're gonna make me come."

 

Jen leans up and scoots down Judy's body, "Can't have that yet, babe," and hooks her thumbs into Judy's underwear, pulling them off. She meets Judy's eyes, and Judy sees a little uncertainty there for the first time. She can tell Jen is contemplating, and gives her a second, although she's aching with need. 

 

Then, quietly, "I've never done this before, but I'm dying to touch you. And taste you."

 

Judy smiles, grabs Jen's hand and places kisses on the inside of her wrist, her palm, flips it and kisses her knuckles. Then she guides it between her legs, both moaning as their fingers meet Judy's wetness, together. "Jen, I've fantasized about this since the moment we met. Anything that involves you touching me, I want." Jen's eyes are wide, staring down at her hand now, but she nods, and Judy takes her hand away as Jen starts moving hers slowly, exploring. Judy's hands grip the sheets, it feels incredible, and with how long she's been waiting for this, she could combust on the spot.

 

"Fuck," Jen groans, as she finds Judy's clit and runs her thumb over it, then pushes a finger inside her, pulsing it slowly. "This feels amazing."

 

"You're telling me," Judy manages to reply. 

 

"I love you," Jen says before dipping her head down to replace her thumb with her tongue.

 

"I love you too, so much- AH!" The ability to form words leaves Judy as soon as Jen's warm tongue touches her clit, swirling slowly as she adds another finger, pumping faster now. Judy's hands find Jen's head, nails running along her scalp before gripping her hair, pulling her closer. The pleasure and love coursing through her veins is unlike anything she's ever felt. 

 

Jen pulls back, just enough to look up at Judy, "So good," then goes back in. Now she switches, fingers finding her clit and tongue entering her.

 

"Oh, fuuuck," Judy knows she won't last long now, legs starting to shake as Jen tongue fucks her. The pleasure coils deep in her belly as she grinds her hips up, seeing stars and gasping out "Baby, I'm coming," trying to be quiet when she wants to scream, especially when Jen removes her tongue and pushes two fingers back into her while she rides out her orgasm. Jen slides up her body to kiss her, tongue in her mouth immediately, Judy groans as she tastes herself. Her movements still, and Jen moves her fingers from inside of Judy right into her own mouth. 

 

Judy watches, mesmerized, as Jen hums around her fingers, "Mmmm... will never get enough of that."

 

Judy laughs breathlessly, brings her hands up, wipes her sweaty bangs off her forehead, "Wow, Jen. For someone who has never done that before... holy. Shit."

 

"What can I say, I've always been a fast learner. Plus, fucking look at you." Jen snuggles up into Judy's side, head on her chest, hand gripping a breast and staying there. Judy lifts a hand to Jen's hair, fingers combing through the soft strands as the sun starts to stream in through the window. She sighs, content, and kisses Jen on the forehead.

 

"Is this real, Jude?" Jen's breath tickles her chest. "Do we really get to have this kind of happiness?"

 

"Yeah," Judy smiles, "We really do."

 

They're silent after that, Judy hears Jen's breathing even out and she falls back asleep, too. She wakes, some time later, to Jen rolling off her and sitting up to stretch. Judy rubs her eyes and grins when she sees Jen's- there's a certain glint there and she knows what it means, "round two". She starts to reach for her when there's a knock on the door.

 

"Mommy? Judy? I'm hungry. Can we have pancakes for breakfast? Please?" Henry's sweet voice is music to Judy's ears, but she has to stifle a laugh when she looks at Jen- she's shaking her head, finger to her lips, mouthing "We're not here" then grabbing for Judy. 

 

Judy hugs her close, laughing as she calls back, "Of course! Give me a few minutes and I'll be down," proud of herself for sounding normal while Jen peppers kisses on her neck.

 

"Yay! Okay!" Henry replies, and she hears him clamber down the stairs.

 

"You stay in bed," Judy says while untangling herself from Jen, despite her protests, "and I'll go get started on breakfast." She leans down to give her a kiss before heading to the bathroom to clean up a bit. Jen is still lying there, cuddling with Judy's pillow when she comes out of the bathroom, and Judy has to stop for a moment, just take a look. It's surreal, that she gets to have Jen like this, and she tells herself to never take it for granted.

 

"I'll be down soon," Jen grumbles, "since there's no one to cuddle. I was cruelly abandoned."

 

Judy just smiles, says, "I love you," and closes the door behind her. 

 

Judy is surprised to see Charlie downstairs, lounging on the couch with his phone. "Morning, Judy. Sleep well?"

 

He doesn't look up, but she can hear the smirk in his voice. "Yes, thank you! Good morning!" She ruffles his hair on her way to the kitchen, where Henry is pulling out the ingredients for pancakes. "Good morning Henry! Thanks for getting started!"

 

Henry smiles brightly at her. "You're welcome! We haven't had pancakes since you left, but I think we still have everything." he digs in the pantry, searching. "Ah ha! The best part!" He holds up a bag of chocolate chips, triumphant. 

 

By the time Jen comes downstairs a few minutes later, the boys are sitting on the barstools, chatting and watching Judy while she works, sneaking chocolate chips here and there. "I see you two are being a big help," Jen snarks as she settles onto the stool next to Henry. Judy slides her a cup of coffee, and she gives her a grateful smile. "Thanks."

 

"Judy told us we didn't need to help," Charlie says with a mouthful of chocolate chips.

 

"It's true, I did," Judy looks at Jen as she mixes the batter, follows Jen's stare to her arm that's working the whisk. Judy coughs, and Jen blinks, a slight blush covering her cheeks. As she moves her eyes up to meet Judy's, she doesn't look caught- just winks. Judy looks down so the boys don't see her blushing in return. 

 

Twenty minutes later, the table is set and they're sitting down to eat. Henry takes a big bite of pancakes, and looks over at Judy. "I'm so glad you're back, Judy. I've missed our family breakfasts!"

 

Judy wonders if it will ever go away, the warmth in her chest, then Charlie chimes in, "I mostly missed the pancakes," but she looks at him, and he's grinning at her. 

 

"You're so full of shit, Charlie," Jen says.

 

"No, I'm full of pancakes. And thankfully not your 'scrambled eggs,'" he air quotes.

 

Judy guffaws, covers her mouth with her hand when Jen mock-glares at her. "You too, huh?" She accuses, and Judy just shrugs. She reaches over to grab Jen's hand, gives it a squeeze, then they all dig in.

 

Judy looks at the three of them while they eat, her family. Her heart feels like it could burst. She lets herself believe, this life is hers, and it could be permanent. 

 

She's home. 

 

*

 

Getting settled into a new routine is easy. It's the same as before, except now there's even more constant touching, and sex. A lot of sex. Judy's set up a makeshift office in the guest house, because even though work provided her with a laptop and she can work anywhere, she's found that if she's in the main house trying to work when Jen's home and the boys aren't, they get... distracted. And as much as she loves it, she does actually need to get some work done.

 

Judy's been in a few relationships before that have started out hot and heavy, but fizzled when it was clear there wasn't a real emotional and cerebral connection. To have the foundation of a deeply emotional relationship, with the best friend she's ever had, and add the incredible physical connection they now share? It's absolute bliss. Their need, their want for each other is insatiable. 

 

Judy is in her "office", wrapping up a video conference call with Margo and Greg one afternoon when Jen barges in. "Hey, babe-" she stops when she sees Judy on the laptop. "Oh I'm so sorry!" She turns around immediately when Margo speaks up.

 

"Is that Jen? We'd love to meet her."

 

Judy smiles, waves Jen over, who mouths "I'm sorry" again. Judy shakes her head, mouths back "It's fine."

 

Jen reaches Judy, crouches down so her head is in the frame. Margo and Greg smile and wave. "This is my girlfriend, Jen," she tells them with a smile. She's looking at Jen on the screen, and sees a weird look pass over her face. She's filled with a moment of panic. Surely she didn't over step with referring to her as her "girlfriend"? They haven't discussed labels, but Jesus...

 

She's reassured when Jen speaks up. "Hi Margo! Hi Greg! I've heard so much about you two."

 

"Nice to meet you, Jen, so have we," Greg says.

 

"Hi, Jen. Your girlfriend sure is special," Margo adds, "thank you for sharing her with us. We're lucky to have her."

 

Judy beams. She's still not used to this kind of support and positivity, still has a hard time with compliments, but it's the best kind of adjustment to make. 

 

"Don't I know it," Jen replies, squeezing Judy's shoulder. "Thank you, for everything you've done for her."

 

Margo waves her hand, "Oh, of course. She's done way more for us. Well, we were just wrapping up. Judy, we'll see you here in a couple weeks?" Judy nods, opens her mouth to respond when Margo adds, "Jen, have you ever been to San Francisco? You should come with Judy, make a weekend of it! I'd love to take you two out to dinner."

 

Jen nods, "That would be great! We'll see if we can work it out." She seems genuine in her answer, and Judy feels a rush of excitement at the thought.

 

They say their goodbyes and Judy closes her laptop. "Shit, Jude, I'm so sorry I interrupted. I know you come in here when you need to get stuff done. I'll at least knock next time, promise."

 

Judy stands up, faces Jen, wraps her arms around her waist. "It's fine! I'm glad you got to meet them. Thank you for trying to respect my boundaries but, I really don't care to have any," she stretches up on her toes to give Jen a kiss (she's barefoot and Jen is still in her heels). "I mean, maybe make sure you're clothed when I'm on a video call, but other than that, nope. Don't need them."

 

Jen laughs, and wraps her arms around her. "When is your meeting? Two weeks from Friday, right?" Judy nods, lays her head on Jen's shoulder. "That's the Friday after Christopher's wedding. I'll be closed on the beach house by then. We could make a long weekend of it."

 

Judy snaps her head up to look at Jen. "Really?!"

 

"Sure. I would love it. A little getaway... maybe do some wine tasting... I've always wanted to visit Napa and Sonoma. I've never been. Plus, then we won't have to be apart."

 

"Can't imagine a night without me, huh?" Judy teases.

 

Jen smiles, but her eyes are serious. "No, I really can't."

 

A thought pops into Judy's mind, an insecurity, she doesn't need to ask, doesn't need to ruin the moment- "Hey, I noticed when I called you my girlfriend you had a funny look on your face. Was that not okay? It's okay if it's not, you can tell me, I shouldn't have assumed-" she looks down, embarrassed. 

 

"Oh my God, Judy, are you serious?" Jen takes Judy's chin in her hand, yanks her head up to meet her eyes. There's a bit of a fire burning in Jen's. "I was just thinking how the term "girlfriend" seems inadequate to describe what you are to me. That's all." She turns and sits down on the edge of the daybed. Judy shifts to stand in front of her, Jen opens her legs wide to accommodate. 

 

Judy runs her hands through Jen's hair, filled with relief. "Oh. Well, what should I call you, then?"

 

"Hmmmm..." Jen looks deep in thought. "Life partner?" Her eyes are twinkling. Judy bursts out laughing, and Jen pulls her down onto her lap (Judy's suddenly very happy they haven't cleared the bed out yet).

*

The week of Christopher's wedding, Jen is stressed. The closing on her big beach house sale is Thursday, and Judy knows how ready she is to be done with it. She also has to give a speech at the wedding, and has just started working on it. As much as Judy has offered, Jen won't let her read it or practice in front of her. She's also been grumbling about "walking a well-dressed dog down the fucking aisle", but Judy can tell she's not really as annoyed as she's putting on.

 

Jen calls Judy one afternoon, she's just leaving a high school after a meeting with the principal about their new volunteer program. "Hi!" she answers the phone, always happy to hear from Jen. 

 

"Hey babe," Jen says, and Judy can tell by the tone of her voice she isn't in a good mood.

 

"You okay?"

 

"Ugh, rough meeting. The closing is tomorrow and this ass hole is trying to haggle the price down because the appraisal came in $10,000 under the price he's paying. Like, really dude, $10,000? You're paying 3 million. Go dig in your fucking couch cushions!"

 

"Wow, that's ridiculous. Did you figure it out?"

 

"Yes, luckily- and I never thought I'd say these words- Lorna was there, and we were able to convince him to drop it. Changing the paperwork would have been a giant pain I don't need right now."

 

"Good! So are you heading home?"

 

Jen sighs, "I wish. I have to go to the tailor first."

 

"Ooooh, to pick up your dress?" Judy can't wait to see Jen all dressed up for the wedding. Though, much like the speech, Jen won't tell her anything about her dress, despite much prodding.

 

"...Yeah. Have to try it on, make sure it's all good, then bring it home."

 

"And have a fashion show tonight, right? That's what you were going to say next? I knew it."

 

She actually coaxes a laugh out of Jen at that, "Nice try, Jude. It'll be a fashion show for you Saturday when Adele and I are walking down the aisle."

 

Judy grins, "Fine. I can't wait."

 

"See you in a bit?"

 

"Yep. I love you."

 

"Love you, too." (Judy never tires of hearing it.)

 

Jen already sounds in better spirits, but Judy passes by the store on her way home, and decides to stop for a bottle of wine and the ingredients to make her a cherry pie, anyway. When she gets home, the boys are in the pool (Charlie has been great with Henry this summer, barely complaining about the times he has to keep him occupied).

 

"What you got there?" Charlie yells when he spots her walking up.

 

She holds up the grocery bags. "Cherry pie!"

 

"Hell yeah!" He whoops.

 

"Judy! Watch this!" Henry jumps up, "CANNONBALL!" and splashes into the pool.

 

"Well?" He looks at her expectantly when his head bobs up out of the water.

 

"That was a 10. Definitely. Your splash radius has improved dramatically."

 

He grins at her, and she grins back. 

 

Judy is just sticking the pie in the oven when Jen walks in, laying a black garment bag over the back of the couch before walking over to her. Jen comes up behind her as she's washing her hands, wraps her arms around her and settles her chin on her shoulder. "You look so sexy in that apron," kisses her cheek and Judy hums. "Is that what I think it is in the oven?" 

 

Judy nods. "Mmm hmmm," turns in Jen's arms and is alarmed when she sees tears in her eyes. She wraps one hand to the back of her neck, the other up to her cheek. "What's wrong? Did something else happen?"

 

"No," Jen shakes her head, "Nothing's wrong. Nothing. I was thinking on my way home, even if the closing had fallen through, I wouldn't even care-" Judy raises an eyebrow, "-well, I'd probably be really pissed for a few minutes, maybe smash a car up or something. But then I'd get to come home. To you." She brings her hands to Judy's face, thumbs running over cheekbones. "And then I actually do get home, and you're here, in your apron, making me a cherry pie. You're just fucking perfect."

 

Judy shrugs, "I'd do anything to make you happy." 

 

Jen gets a far-off look in her eyes for a second, "You know, when you were gone I bought a cherry pie from that bakery a few blocks away, the one I used to love," Judy almost opens her mouth, to tell her she knows, she saw- but decides against it. There's no need to revisit that, and how broken she felt then. It's so far behind her now. Jen continues, "I took one bite. Threw the rest in the trash."

 

This makes Judy feel happy and sad at the same time, and all she can think to do is lean up to kiss Jen. She wraps her arms around her, slips her tongue into her mouth (it still makes her knees go weak), and they get lost in each other for a few moments. She pulls back, breathless. "You don't ever have to eat anyone else's cherry pie ever again, okay?"

 

A devilish smirk creeps onto Jen's face. "Oh, baby, I don't plan to," then leans back in for another kiss.

 

Just then the door opens, Henry's sweet "Awww!" almost drowned out by Charlie's, "Oh God, get a room!"

 

Judy smiles against Jen's lips.

 

*

 

Judy is overflowing with excitement on Saturday as she gets ready for Chris and Alan's wedding. Since Jen, Charlie and Henry are all in it (the boys are ushers), they're up at the church getting ready with the rest of the wedding party. As Alan explained to Judy last night at the rehearsal dinner (she was so happy to finally meet him, he's such a doll), they kept the wedding party very small, only Jen and Adele on Chris' side and Alan's brother on his, because "deciding between their friends would be like 'Sophie's Choice'" and they "didn't want the drama to ruin their upcoming softball season." Judy had just nodded and smiled, pretending to know what he was talking about. 

 

Jen still wouldn't show Judy her dress beforehand, although Judy finally got the color scheme out of her after begging, "Jen, I don't want to be too match-y! Or clash-y!" Jen had rolled her eyes, "We wouldn't want to CLASH!" before relenting, "It's black and white. Literally impossible to clash." Judy had managed to swallow her tongue on her "brown" argument, she'd pushed Jen far enough. 

 

Judy had gone shopping, Jen did tell her the wedding would be somewhat formal, and nothing in her closet seemed right. She picked a floor-length black dress with a slit halfway up the thigh (Jen had mentioned loving her legs several times now, so she knows she'll approve), patterned with large dark pink flowers with green leaves. It has a high neck, but is relatively backless- which is what really sold Judy on the dress. The main body of the dress sits low on her back, and thick panels of delicate black lace cross up from each side, meeting at her spine and joining the thin straps at her neck. A diamond of skin in the center of her back is left bare. It's gorgeous, and she feels like a million bucks as she slips it on. 

 

Judy decides the occasion is appropriate for doing something different with her hair. She fashions an updo of a bun with a few soft tendrils of hair left down, framing her face, bangs parted a bit but still falling across her forehead. After applying her makeup, she looks in the mirror and smiles at her reflection. She's excited for Jen to see her, and even more excited to see Jen. The thought gives her butterflies; it's still so special to her that she gets to share her life with Jen, share moments like she knows the night will bring. Witnessing the love of two people becoming forever, celebrating, dancing- all on Jen's arm, knowing she's hers.

 

*

 

Judy arrives at the church about 10 minutes before the ceremony starts, and joins the line of people waiting to be seated. She cranes her neck to get a look at the ushers-  her face breaks into a grin and love and pride fill her chest when she sees them- Charlie and Henry looking so handsome, and so grown-up, in their tuxedos. Charlie catches her eye first, gives her a smile and a head nod of acknowledgement. Henry meets her with his arm extended when she reaches him, absolutely beaming,"Hi Judy! You look so pretty!"

 

She loops her arm through his, "You look pretty great yourself, you handsome devil!"

 

They walk toward the front row of pews, and Henry tells her, "Mom says you're special, so you get to sit in the reserved section. You can sit on the end here, and when we're done with our ushering duties, Charlie and I will come sit with you," he stops at the second row, labeled with a sign that says "Reserved for Family". Judy has to blink back tears as she sits down. She's never been in a "reserved for family" section, anywhere. 

 

She looks up at Henry before he walks away, "Don't tell Charlie, but I think you're the best usher of all time." He brings his hand up to brush off his shoulder, and she laughs. She looks around to take it all in, smiling at everyone she makes eye contact with. The decor is minimal- there are large bouquets of white roses at the end of every other pew, but the church itself is so beautiful, there doesn't need to be anything else. At first, Judy was surprised when Jen told her the ceremony would be at the church, but she quickly realized she shouldn't have been- it made perfect sense. Christopher's faith is very important to him, and that's something he and Alan have in common. Judy could tell that the night before, after Alan had mentioned to her that "God brought the two of them together". Her own views on God are a little more complex, but it's a lovely thought. 

 

As everyone gets settled and the violinist begins playing, Judy's eyes dart back to the doors excitedly. Just then, Henry and Charlie come sneaking into the pew, sitting down next to her. Alan is the first to walk in, ushering his mother, who kisses his cheek before taking her seat in the front row. Alan looks a bit nervous, but so happy, as he stands at the pulpit next to the pastor. Next is Alan's brother, smiling at people as he walks down the aisle, taking his place beside his brother. Judy already feels tears in her eyes, she feels almost nervous knowing Jen is next. First, she catches sight of Adele, wearing a... tux?! Judy's eyes immediately snap up, and there's Jen- she feels her jaw drop and eyes widen as she sees her. She's wearing a black tuxedo, similar to what the men are wearing, but it's decidedly feminine- slim cut black pants, perfectly tailored black jacket with satin lapels, white button up shirt and a black bow tie, black heels on her feet. Her hair is down, with a deep side part, loose golden waves falling over her shoulders. Judy's mouth has gone dry, she can't blink, doesn't want to miss a second of this as her head moves to follow Jen on the entire walk. As she passes by Judy, she smiles even brighter and gives her a wink. 

 

Everyone stands up as Christopher enters, and he looks so handsome, walking down the aisle with his mom. Judy tries to focus on him and Alan, she really does, but she feels almost disoriented after seeing Jen. As soon as Chris makes it to the front, his mother giving him away, Judy turns and her eyes are back on Jen, where they stay for the entirety of the beautiful ceremony. 

 

Jen is sexiest to her when she has absolutely nothing on, letting Judy worship every inch of her body. But this look... this is definitely a close second. 

 

When the ceremony is over, Judy hangs back while Jen and the boys take some pictures with the rest of the wedding party. When they're done, and Jen finally approaches her, she reaches out and grabs the lapels on her jacket. "You really couldn't tell me about this? Had to go and give me a heart attack?"

 

A slow smile spreads over Jen's face, "You like it, huh?"

 

"Yeah, you could say that. You're stunning."

 

Jen grabs Judy's hands, spinning her around to see the back of the dress. "And look at you. Talk about a heart attack." 

 

"Can we go to the reception now? There's supposed to be snacks there. I'm fucking starving," Charlie asks as the boys walk up. 

 

"Uh, language, dude! We're in a church!" Jen scolds him.

 

"Sorry, sorry!" Charlie looks up, "Sorry God. And Jesus. My bad."

 

Judy drives them all to the reception, it's at a venue called Seven Degrees, about 15 minutes away. They talk about the ceremony, and the boys chat about their experience during the day, laughing as they recount Alan and his brother taking shots of tequila they'd snuck into the church. Jen says she and Chris sipped on some champagne, "but I wish they would have shared the good stuff". Judy just clutches Jen's hand as she drives, smiling the entire time. 

 

When they arrive, everyone is outside on a beautiful terrace, where snacks and drinks are being served. Jen grabs them each a glass of wine as they mill around, mingling and taking in the beauty of the scenery. Judy still can't take her eyes off Jen. After about half an hour, they're ushered inside to the reception hall. Judy looks around in awe, it's huge, large round tables set up around a dance floor, white tablecloths and flowers on each table, blue lighting creating the cool ambiance of the room. Judy has never been to a reception like this. They find their table, and Judy watches Jen as she takes off her jacket to put it on the back of her chair, loosens her bow tie, leaves it hanging around her neck. Judy's body has been responding to Jen's appearance all night; she feels a low throb at the sight. They're sitting with Alan's brother and his wife, along with a couple of cousins, and Judy tries to focus on chatting with them as servers begin to bring around dinner. Chris and Alan arrive, and are introduced to much applause. As they eat, Judy feels Jen's eyes on her, and a pleasant blush creeps up her neck to her cheeks. "Woah, is that a chocolate fountain?!" Henry exclaims as their plates are being cleared away. 

 

"I think so," Charlie says, "Sweet! Let's go check it out!" 

 

The boys stand up to head to the corner of the room where the cakes and other desserts are set up. "Don't touch anything yet!" Jen yells after them. "Hey, I need to use the restroom," she says, gaze finding Judy's. "Do you need to go, too?" Her eyes flare, almost imperceptibly, but Judy sees, and it's all she can do to keep from moaning.

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah, she does. She just nods and stands up, letting Jen grab her hand and lead her to the bathroom. There's two individual bathrooms, and as Jen pulls her into one, closes the door and locks it, she looks around, "Wow, it's so nice and clean in here-" Jen cuts her off by spinning her around, crashing their lips together, and Judy groans in relief as their tongues meet. Jen's hands are warm on the exposed skin of her back, and Judy's hands find Jen's hair. Judy pulls away after several moments, panting, "I've been thinking about this since the moment I saw you at the church... seriously, I'm surprised God didn't smite me down for what was running through my mind," she reaches for Jen, hands heading for the waistband of her pants.

 

Jen grabs her hands, pushes her into the door and pins them above her head. "No," she says, voice deep and quiet, eyes dark.

 

"Please, Jen," Judy begs, desperate. "I feel like I might die if I don't touch you."

 

Jen shakes her head, "We don't have much time, and I can't give a speech looking like I've just been fucked. Luckily, your dress allows for easier access." She lets go of Judy's hands and takes a couple of steps back. Judy watches, practically shaking with desire as Jen unbuttons the cuff of her sleeve, slowly rolls it up to her elbow, eyes raking up and down Judy. "You think I haven't been dying to touch you, too? That dress Jude, fuck. I almost abandoned Adele halfway down the aisle when I saw you."

 

Judy loves it, Jen's intensity- it's always been there, a big part of her personality, but before, she always channeled it into anger. Now, it's shifted, and Judy gets the benefit of all of her passion. It's been a joy to see Jen transform, become so confident in herself, her body, and her sexuality. It's such a turn on. Judy can tell, now, that Jen believes she's beautiful. Jen believes she's wanted. Jen believes she's loved.

 

Judy stays glued to the door, Jen's fiery eyes pin her there, but she has to reach down underneath her dress, between her thighs, touch herself over her underwear, to alleviate some of the pressure building as she watches Jen. Her eyes flutter shut as Jen closes the distance between them, grabbing Judy's hand and replacing it with her own. Faintly, they can hear the DJ, saying speeches will start in 5 minutes. "Fuck," Jen mutters as her fingers find Judy's clit, and she slams her head back against the door, "I'll have to make this quick." 

 

"Shouldn't be an issue," Judy whispers, she's been ready to come since she first saw Jen. Her hands grip Jens shoulders, trying to keep her balance as Jen enters her with two fingers, thrusting hard, curling them perfectly each time, just how she knows Judy likes. 

 

"Yeah, baby, I can tell you've been ready for awhile," Jen says into her ear, before taking her earlobe between her teeth.

 

"Hours," Judy gasps, head spinning. 

 

"I'm so damn lucky, Jude, you're the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen. I wish I had time to get that dress off of you, as beautiful as it is. Fuck, I love you," Jen knows sweet talk turns Judy on, and her words and fingers are bringing her close to the brink. One last thrust and curl of her fingers and Judy's coming, biting her lip, hard, to stay quiet, eyes slammed shut as she rolls her hips to ride out the pleasure. Jen holds her up while she comes down from her high, then steps back, turning towards the sink to wash her hands. Judy just stands there, catching her breath, in disbelief of what just happened but feeling incredible. Jen turns back around and smiles at her as she rolls her sleeve back down. "Take a couple of minutes, but not too long, okay? Don't want you to miss my speech."

 

Judy nods as she steps away from the door. Jen gives her one more lingering kiss before stepping out of the bathroom. Legs still shaky, Judy walks to the sink and turns it on, studies herself in the mirror. She just has to touch up her hair a bit, and wipe away some smudged lipstick- her lips are a new shade, now, a mixture of hers and Jen's. The thought does nothing to ease her racing heart. 

 

She leaves the bathroom, grabs another glass of wine from the bar, and slides back into her seat as Alan's brother is finishing up his toast. Luckily, the boys are shoveling their faces with chocolate covered... everything, and don't seem to notice. Everyone raises their glasses in a toast, a glass of champagne has been placed at her seat, so she grabs it, toasts with two hands to the happy couple. "Next, we have the maid of honor, Jen!" He hands the microphone off to Jen, who thanks him. 

 

She looks incredible, and Judy can't help grinning like a fool watching her as she's the center of attention. Even in this lighting, her face is flushed, and Judy gets a thrill at being the only one who knows it's not from nerves. "Hi everyone, I'm Jen," she starts, and Judy and Henry both let out a "WOOOO!" at the same time, unplanned, then high five each other.

 

"Ha, thanks for the warm welcome," Jen continues, "So, Christopher and I have been friends for more than twenty years, and he's always been a wonderful friend. Of course, that has changed from the early days of our friendship, when he had to take my contacts out for me because I was too drunk to do it myself," she pauses as a ripple of laughter runs through the crowd, and Judy looks at Chris, he's nodding and laughing, too. "Yes, that did actually happen, more than once," Jen says, taking a sip of her wine and comically lifting her eyebrows, "Seriously, it takes a great friend to stick their fingers in your eyeballs. Anyway, our friendship has shifted as we've grown up, and now he's godfather to my son. Chris has been there for me through thick and thin, and always pushes me to be better. Even when I haven't wanted to push myself. He's also helped me to realize things about myself, things that I may not have realized on my own, and have brought me great happiness." Her eyes shift to Judy for a split second, Judy's heart leaps, before focusing back on Chris and Alan. "I'm so glad Chris met you, Alan. You two are perfect together, and I hope you continue to bring out the best in each other. If I know anything about love, it's that when you find it, hold on tight and don't let it go. I know you two will hold onto each other forever." Jen raises up her champagne glass, "Let's have a toast to the happy couple. To Alan and Chris!"

 

A chorus of "Hear hear!"s and clinking glasses erupts, as Judy and Jen make eye contact, raising their glasses to each other.  Judy feels warm from the inside out, a slight buzz of alcohol, and a stronger buzz from the emotion she's feeling. Jen walks back to the table after hugging Chris and Alan, and takes her seat.

 

"Great job, Mom!" Henry says.

 

She looks at them expectantly, "Yeah? Was it okay? Everything I planned to say kind of flew out the window when I got up there."

 

Judy nods emphatically, "It was perfect."

 

"Yeah," Charlie says with a mouth full of chocolate covered strawberry, "it was good." 

 

Jen sits back in her chair, sighs, "Glad that's over. Now time to drink and cut a rug!" Judy hands her the rest of her glass of wine. Jen smiles, downs it, and takes her hand. Now it's time for the first dances, and they watch as Chris and Alan dance, then have sweet dances with their moms, respectively. 

 

"Alright!" The DJ says as the applause dies down, "now it's time to party!" Everyone starts to flood the dance floor as the opening notes to Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" pulse through the room.

 

Jen stands up, holds her hand out to Judy, shimmying her shoulders, "Let's go!"

 

Judy stands, smiling, and drinks the rest of her champagne. She looks at the boys. "You two coming?" They stand, too, Charlie only somewhat reluctantly, and the four of them make their way to the floor. It's so much fun, dancing with them. Chris comes over to join them, too, giving everyone a big hug before moving on to greet other people. Judy can see Charlie, surprisingly, got more of Jen's rhythm than Henry did- he's an awkward dancer like Judy. After the first song ends, the "Cha Cha Slide" starts, and Henry squeals in excitement. About halfway through, Judy is worn out, and she heads back to the table for a breather, Charlie following closely behind her.

 

She sits down to chug some water, watching Jen and Henry as they goof off and "cha cha real smooth". Jen is so carefree, having a blast, and it makes Judy indescribably happy to see her this way. Henry, too. She leans over and grabs a strawberry off Charlie's plate. "Hey, Char, your mom told me you and Natalie are still seeing each other. Why didn't you bring her?"

 

Charlie shrugs, popping a marshmallow into his mouth. "I dunno. It didn't seem like the best time to introduce her to my two Moms, at a gay wedding. Thought it might be a bit much. I'll invite her over for dinner sometime soon."

 

Judy's heart skips a beat at his words, and she swallows the rest of her strawberry, looks at him, incredulous. "What?"

 

"What?" He looks back at her, confused, as if what he just said wasn't a big deal, wasn't monumental. Somehow that makes it even better. Judy can't believe how far they've come. 

 

She just shakes her head. "Nothing. Make sure you let me know what she likes. I'll make something good."

 

"Okay," he nods, then adds, "something with meat."

 

Judy laughs, "Got it." 

 

Henry runs back to the table as the song ends, plops down, slightly sweaty. "That was AWESOME!"

 

Jen comes back a couple of minutes later, a drink in each hand, gives one to Judy.

 

"Thanks!" She says, grateful, as she takes a few big gulps. "Mmmm, mojito, delicious."

 

Jen drinks hers quickly, places the empty glass on the table. Another fast song is ending, and the first slow song of the evening starts. Jen strokes Judy's shoulder. "Come on," she says, softly. 

 

Judy looks up at her, "Gladly."

 

They walk to the dance floor, hand in hand. Judy puts her arms around Jen's neck. In both of their heels, Jen's only got about an inch on her. Jen wraps her arms around Judy's waist, one hand finding the exposed skin of her back, fingers digging in. They look into each other's eyes for a moment; Jen's are shining- with a little bit of alcohol- but mostly, Judy thinks, with love. Judy nuzzles her cheek into Jen's as they sway to the music. While Ed Sheeran croons "me, I fall in love with you every single day", Judy thinks about how this has been the best few weeks of her life, the best night of her life. She opens her mouth to say so when Jen speaks first. 

 

"Do you have a dream wedding? Something you've imagined since you were a little girl?" Judy shivers a little, words spoken directly into her ear. 

 

"No, not really," she replies as they keep dancing, "Steve wanted a big wedding, and I went along with it because it's what he wanted. I'd probably want something small. Maybe on the beach."

 

Jen nods, hums, "Hmmmm," and gives Judy a kiss on the shoulder.

 

"What about you? If you ever got married again?" Judy asks, curious.

 

"Ehhh, I'd only want one thing out of another wedding."

 

Judy lets out a soft laugh, "What's that? New china? Some good cake?"

 

Jen stops moving, so Judy stops, too, and pulls back to look at her. When their eyes meet, Jen says, simply, "You."

 

Judy feels a swell of emotion fill her chest, take her breath away, at the look in Jen's eyes. She's seen it before, this same look- but with all they've been through to get here, it has only become more intense. As she tucks her head back into Jen's neck, takes a deep breath, relishing the moment, the pure happiness she feels, she knows- it's a promise. Jen tightens her grip as they begin dancing again. 

 

Judy believes her.

Chapter Text

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."