A flowing breeze of air accompanied Carol as she walked along Central Park. It was Sunday evening and she needed to get out of her house to avoid the consuming loneliness after Harge picked up Rindy from her weekend stayover. It took an excruciating 8 months before Harge finally agreed to let Rindy stay the night at her house. During those months when she was only allowed a 4 hours visit every Saturday, Carol thought it was rather ridiculous of him to view Carol as a threat to her own daughter, especially when the thing (or the person) whom Harge viewed as the catalyst for Carol’s misleading life wasn’t even there for her anymore.
It has been 1 and a half year since the encounter at Ritz Tower. She would be lying if she said that she wasn’t hoping for Therese to show up at the Oak Room. But her last string of hope was shattered to pieces as the young woman was never seen even after the restaurant was nearing its closing time. Every day after that Carol would always live with a longing that Therese would somehow appear at her doorstep or maybe came to the furniture shop she’s working at. But of course, none of them happened. Sometimes when Carol was at her lowest moment, she often pondered on calling her, apologize over and over again, begging Therese to take her back. But she knew she couldn’t, Therese not coming to the Oak Room already speaks volume of her decision.
That night, Therese had looked so matured, so elegant, so wise and so….beautiful. The young woman carried so much confidence that was never there before. During the trip, it was always Carol who’s the confident one. The bold one, the one who initiated every movement. But again Carol thought about how Therese offered to sleep in the Presidential Suite instead of separate rooms, about how confident she was when she told the room number to the waiter at Drake, about how Therese was the one who asked her to make love to her. Perhaps Therese had always had the confidence in her, perhaps it's only Carol who hasn't noticed it before, too occupied in gaining control.
“Is that what comes by getting away from me?”
Therese had denied it, saying no as if it was the most absurd thing she ever heard, but Carol knew there was truth behind her question. Of course Therese would say no. Sweet sweet Therese who would never hurt a fly, who would never hurt Carol.
And yet she did, in the most agonizing yet painless way, she did hurt Carol. But Carol would never be able to blame her, can she? How can she be mad at Therese? She did hurt the young woman first and now it’s only fair that she felt the same way too. Carol left her, didn't she? and it’s only fair she does the same thing towards the older woman.
Carol knew she can’t keep on harassing Therese’s life. The young woman was so much better off her, doesn’t it? Often, she would go on days thinking what can she offer anyway? She’s just a middle aged woman with divorce baggage and a complete mess. Therese definitely deserved someone else, someone younger and much more beautiful, with no baggage, someone who can make her happier.
The first few months after the heart-rending rejection by Therese was hard for Carol. She didn’t have anyone. Not Therese, not Rindy, not even Abby as the woman was starting to get occupied with her certain redhead. And Carol was so, so happy for her friend. After all these times, Abby deserved her happiness and Carol would be the most selfish person if she kept on burdening Abby with her own endless mess. And so she did her best not to lose it all. Every day she would put a mask every time she went to work and when she came home she would pour a drink, she would try to read a book, or she would listen to her records, most of the times Billy Holiday would be playing on repeat as she curled up on sofa and relives one of the happiest moments in her life, moments with Therese.
As she walks past the ice cream vendor, Carol can’t help but remember her sweet daughter, Rindy. It’s only 2 hours since she parted away with her but she already misses her terribly. Carol wished to have more time with her daughter but she knew she shouldn’t jeopardize what she had now. Perhaps she could wait until Harge’s in a better mood before voicing out her request, “but for now, this has to be enough” Carol would say this to herself every day.
It was only when she took a seat at a bench near the ice cream vendor that she heard that voice.
Carol could never forget that voice, that sweet melody that brought so much happiness in her life. But could it be her? Technically the chance of them bumping off against each other is not a complete mad idea as their places are not so far from each other. If Therese still lives there, that is. But it can’t be her, can it? Why now? After all these 18 months, what’s the probability that they will even meet again? With a mixed emotion, Carol turned towards the vendor and felt her heart stopped beating.
There she was, standing in a refined choice of clothing similar to the one at the Ritz Tower. Flash of memories washes over Carol as she continued staring at the young woman she loved… no, loves so much. Therese was oblivious of her presence as she was laughing with someone besides her. It was only then that Carol noticed the presence of another young woman besides her. The brunette with curly hair was slightly taller than Therese, and every fibre of her presence exudes confidence and radiant. Carol thought the woman very much resembles herself, except that she’s not young, or as beautiful as her, and she’s not with Therese.
As if sensing a pair of eyes watching her, Therese turns her head up towards Carol’s direction and so… Carol froze. It felt so much like their first encounter at Frankenberg where everything else disappeared, there was only her and Therese, staring at each other for what felt like hours when the truth is it’s only a matter of microscopic seconds. Except now the role is reversed, it’s not Therese who’s the unsure, shy woman but Carol. There might be no reception counter as a barrier between them but the wall built up in Therese’s eyes was definitely enough.
The brunette besides Therese must have noticed the exchange as she started nudging the woman's elbows as if she was asking “someone familiar?”
And so, Therese turns her head towards the woman’s direction, breaking her trance with Carol. Carol doesn’t know whether to thank the woman or to be mad at her. Surely if Therese didn’t look away, she would never lay her eyes off the woman. Maybe it’s better this way, to slip away while Therese is distracted. She did once, didn't she? But Carol found her feet sticking to the ground where she stood there, studying the young woman figure. She looked very fine, her stance exudes independence and elegance of a happy, free woman, and Carol would be bitch to mess her life again.
With a heavy heart, she turned around and began making her way towards the other direction.
1 step… 2 steps… 3 steps… 4,
The shouting stopped her in her tracks. Carol almost felt like fish out of water, she didn’t know what she should do. Should she run? Should she turn around? It felt like every movement she did and was about to do was wrong. But how could she not turn to the woman she dearly adores?
Footsteps approaching her and Carol turns around and her heart swells to see those beautiful doe eyes staring at her.
“Carol.” Therese breathes out
For a moment there was a silence between both women. Neither breaking eye contact and Carol felt lost in those beautiful emerald eyes, lost in the presence of Therese.
“How are you” Therese broke the still silence
“Im fine… and you?” the woman asked
“Good. It’s been… a long time”
“A year and a half” and 5 days Carol wanted to add, but felt silly considering Therese probably doesn’t even count days since their last meeting.
“Do you want to have a coffee? With me… I mean, at the café down the street?” Therese asked her.
Carol was taken aback. In her mind, she thought that Therese was calling her to tell her how life has been great without her. How she didn’t need her but a coffee invitation? This isn’t something she prepared. As if noticing the slight hesitation in Carol’s face, Therese hastily apologised,
“Oh I’m sorry I didn’t consider it. Do you have other plans?
“No no… I’m just, yes coffee sounds great”
“Well let’s take off then” Therese said as she starts leading the way
The walk to the coffee was a short and silent one and they immediately took a seat at the secluded booth once they entered the café. Carol can’t help but reminisce about their first lunch at Scotty’s and she smiled sadly at the memory. She was afraid to make eye contact with Therese so she busied herself with the task of finding cigarettes in her purse, aware of the eyes glued on her in the process. The prospect of being rejected again washed over Carol as she offered the young woman a cigarette but her anxiousness eases as the young woman takes up her offer.
After the waiter attends, Carol braces herself to whatever conversation awaits her. Just remembering the absence of the other brunette, Carol asked Therese about her whereabouts.
“Oh she has something else to do so we parted ways.”
Carol could only nod. Part of her wanted to bombard Therese with questions,
“What’s her name?”
“How do you know her?”
“Is she your new lover?”
But part of her knew that it was not her place to ask, so she refraint herself.
“How’s life been? Are you still working at the furniture shop?” asked Therese
Carol was surprised she remembers that bit Carol told her, especially when the young woman had been so distant during the revelation. But nevertheless she found herself answering in an unusually long answer. Glad to have something to divert her from her growing anxiousness. Carol in return asked Therese about the woman’s life and was proud to learn that Therese had been promoted to become the junior photographer at The Times. She learnt that the other woman enjoys her job so much and Carol decided that if the café served champagne, she would order one to toast for Therese’s success. The conversation between them flowed smoothly and Carol could feel the tension in her body easing up. At some point Therese asked her about Rindy, whether Carol had custody of her to which Carol told her the anecdote of the story.
“It’s not a very promising deal but at least I get to have her every 2 nights during the weekend, I wish I could have more time with her though, I feel like my sweet girl is growing up and I’m not there to see it.” Carol replied solemnly and ran her eyes away from Therese as she felt her eyes getting blurry.
Fuck, I shouldn’t feel melancholic right now goddamn it. There’s always tonight what the hell was-
Carol’s thought was halted as she felt a small delicate hand on top of hers, squeezing it.
“It will get better, I’m sure of it,” Therese replied, smiling so tenderly that causes somersault in Carol’s heart before finally removing her hand.
Their conversation afterwards turns into lighter topics and Carol could not have been happier to have this moment. She dreams so much to spend even an hour more with Therese and now that she has it, Carol thought she might have died from happiness.
Soon the clock striked 9pm and it's only then Carol realized that they had spent 3 hours at the café, catching up with each other and sharing new information about their current life. Carol noticed how the conversation regarding their past and the trip were completely avoided but took no part in mentioning it. Afterall why should she ruin this moment with some painful histories? And as reluctant as she is to end their meeting, she thought perhaps Therese had been tired of spending time with her, that the woman might have preferred to be anywhere else.
“Oh look at the time! Should we check out?” Carol could’ve sworn she saw the smile at Therese’s face faltered a bit as she asked the question.
“Well… yes. Just wait a minute, let me get the bill” offered Therese to which Carol refused. She told her that she’s paying to celebrate Therese’s success and after some lightful arguing, Therese finally gave in.
“Okay but the next time’s on me” Carol stopped her movement for a while and turned her head toward the brunette as she heard those words. Next time? Does that mean she still wants to see me? For a while they just look at each other and Therese smiles at her. That dimpled smile that Carol loves so much. Their little trance was cut as a waiter approached them and Carol proceeded in paying the bill.
As they stepped outside the café, it was silent as both women didn't know how to proceed the night.
“Soooo, I guess this is it” Therese was the first to break the silence.
Carol heart wrenched at the thought of not seeing Therese anymore so she nodded frantically trying to mask her emotion. Building up courage she didn’t think was still there, Carol asked
“Do you want to come to my house? To have a drink?”
Therese seemed to ponder the question and Carol thought it may be selfish of her to trap Therese with such question so she hastily added
“Oh or is it too late? I didn’t consider the time I’m sorry” Both women knew it was from late as it’s only 9.35pm
“Okay” Therese replied after a moment
“Let’s go to your house” Carol can’t help from flashing a smile at Therese as she hailed a cab.
Entering her apartment, Carol took Therese’s coat and bag and placed it at the table top near her kitchen.
“What would you like?” she asked while making her way to the kitchen.
Therese on the other hand continued her transmission in the apartment as she looked around Carol’s apartment. The apartment was very homey and relaxing, with the living room furnished by antiques and portraits. The decoration very much screams Carol and Therese took notice that the apartment certainly was large, with 2 big bedrooms and 1 small room, and a balcony overlooking the street busy of New York city.
“Anything is fine Carol” she replied as she took a seat on Carol’s 3 seater couch
Carol glide into the room the next minute bringing a glass of red wine for Therese and a half-full glass of scotch for herself
“There you go darling” the term of endearment sort of just slipped out as she handed the wine. Carol averted her eyes quickly to avoid any discomfortness and took a seat besides the photographer. Mindful to leave a huge gap between them.
“Your house is lovely Carol. I love how you decorated it” Therese said honestly facing Carol
‘Thank you. It was hard to secure all the antiques at first but somehow I managed. What about you? Do you still live at your apartment?” she asked Therese, genuinely curious about the young woman’s life
“Well no, not anymore. I moved to an apartment 4 blocks down the Times office, it was more spacious and easier to commute back and forth from work, but I have to live with a roommate as the rent is a little big high”
“Oh…” Carol pondered her next question. “Is she your roommate? The brunette earlier?”
Therese watched Carol intently, tilting her head before confirming,
“Yes she is… Jamie is great, she helps with cooking because god knows how terrible a cook I am, and so I help clean the house and all that. She also helps with the bill sometimes, you know when I have to cut my budget to buy more film rolls, as sometimes I can just get overboard with photography” Therese chuckled lightly but stopped as she registered the sorrow on Carol’s face.
Carol can’t but felt a pang of jealousy as Therese talks happily about her life with another woman. She knew she would have to get it together or Therese would just get up and leave her apartment but as much as she tried, she can’t stop the melancholic expression written all over her face. She arose from the couch and stood near the record player, trying to look at anything but Therese.
A presence of warmth can be felt from behind her along with as whisper, so slow one could barely heard it,
Carol’s eyes followed a trail downward and settled on Easy Living, placed on the top of the record’s stack. Therese must have noticed it too as she walked closer to her
At that Carol turned her head toward the young woman.
“What are you sorry for, angel? None of what happened was your fault” Carol said so softly that it melted Therese’s heart
“I’m sorry for not coming back for you that evening. I’m sorry I didn’t find you at the Oak Room”
Carol was definitely out of words. Does Therese regret not finding her earlier or does she regret the impossibility of them being together again?
“I should’ve looked for you but I didn’t and I…”
Carol saw that the young woman’s eyes was starting to fill with unshed tears so she quickly wrapped her lover in her arm
“Shhh it’s okay sweetheart it’s okay. None of these are your fault, I unders—I understand why you didn’t come looking for me” Carol could feel her heart breaking at the thought, and breaking even more as Therese continued sobbing in her arms.
After some time, Therese body stopped moving and she pulled back, looking directly into Carol’s eyes.
“2 months after the evening at Ritz, I saw you… I saw you, and Rindy and Harge at a shopping centre and I just… You looked so.. happy so I, I thought you and Harge had got back together that’s why I- ,I never …” Therese said in between sobs
“Oh sweetheart” Now Carol’s tear had burst too as she thought about Therese’s confession.
“I’m not happy because of Harge angel, I’m happy because that was the first visit with Rindy outdoors.. And she, she was so happy about buying new dolls that’s why I looked happy Therese. But believe me when I told you that I cried myself to sleep every night missing you sweetheart, I can’t stop thinking about you Therese. You made me one of the happiest women and I ruined everything by leaving you alone in Chicago. I’m sorry Therese I’m so sorry I-“
Now it was Carol’s turn to cry. All of the agonizing feelings bottled up inside her broke down like a dam and she let her vulnerable side be seen by Therese, by her angel. Therese was quick to move and immediately took Carol in her arms, murmuring again and again and again
“It’s not your fault, it’s mine, I’m the selfish one”
Carol pulled back lightly noticing the wet stain she left of Therese’s shoulder before staring at the deep emerald eyes of the woman she loves. Therese’s eyes were so gentle and tender that it made Carol’s eyes to well up again.
“I love you, I still do” she said so softly to the woman in front of her
There was no reaction from Therese and Carol’s anxiety built up again before suddenly! Oh suddenly, she was being pulled for a kiss. The kiss was gentle yet needy, not rushed and just… perfect. A kiss of longing and desire, a kiss of promises, a kiss that let her pour all of her heart content on the floor. Oh, how Carol misses that.
Both women broke apart with forehead touches, gasping for air, to calm their beating heart. Therese pulled back slightly and caressed Carol’s cheek softly,
“I love you too, Carol” she whispered
Carol could swear she was on the nine cloud as she looked into the big doe eyes searching for any dishonesty to which she found none
“Oh Therese, I’m so so in love with you”
And with that, she pulled her in for another kiss.