Chapter One: I Want to See You
"Do I have to start saying no yet?"
"You can start tomorrow"
"Oh, good, I thought that was a test… then yes"
And yet, neither of them had any intention of leaving that bubble of incredible, serene, honest intimacy they'd finally achieved, after all the shitstorm they'd nearly drowned in, multiple times, over the last... how long had it been? Sixteen, eighteen months, more or less?
Now for Jen, the only conceivable movement, is to extend an arm toward the opposite side of the couch, certainly not to get up to get the wine and glasses, and if it were Judy getting up now, she'd stop her.
But the brunette's firm grip isn't enough, and Jennifer Harding slides into the seat until she can hug her, encouraged by her loving, understanding smile. She feels her cling to her arm as she fastens her hands on her shoulder and rests her cheek on her hair.
"I love you", she whispers, and these three simple words seem more and more ridiculous every time she pronounce them, and she does it grossly fucking often.
"I love you, too", and Jen knows she doesn't answer out of reflex, as when she says "sorry", or "It’s okay". Judy's hands tighten their grip on her arm, and she responds by strengthening her own grip.
"Oh my God Jude, did you ever think it would end up like this when you started stalking me?", she asks after a long silence animated by memories.
"I wasn't stalking you", the brunette points out in a calm voice, "How could I? I couldn't even drive, don't you remember?"
"Oh...", Jen is surprised, she never thought about this detail, but it makes perfect sense. She loosens her embrace so she can look into her eyes, intrigued.
Judy is automatically seized with the fear that she has said something wrong, it always happens like this, things are going fine and then her stupidity has to ruin everything! But the look of genuine interest she catches in her friend's eyes instantly reassures her.
"How did you know you'd find me at that meeting, then?", there's no trace of suspicion, either in her tone or in the blue of her eyes. It's as if they're saying -tell me something I don't know about you yet, I want to see you-.
"I didn't know…", she replies with a sincere smile. Encouraged by the other's silence, she continues. "Okay, this is something I never told you... But I didn't want to keep it from you, it's just that…", she hastens to add, caught up in anxiety, an automatic reflex, the need to justify herself, always.
"Judy… it's okay, honey", Jen reassures her, stroking a strand of her hair in an affectionate gesture. She hears her exhale a sigh of relief, and feels her body relaxing in her arms.
Judy returns to rest her head in the crook of Jen's neck, unable to maintain eye contact any longer. She inhales deeply, trying to decide where to start, she knows she wants to tell her everything and to do that she must necessarily go back to that cursed night, indeed, to before that night.
"Did you know that… after the sixteenth weeks, they have to induce you in labour?", Judy bites the inside of her cheek, feeling uncomfortable the instant the words leave her mouth. She doesn't want Jen to feel sorry for her, doesn't want to justify what happened. She just wants to share with her the moment that changed the course of both of their lives.
It's not what Jen was expecting, but after a second of surprise, she imagines the pain the woman must have felt and her stomach clenches, she can't help but anchor her to herself with a firmer grip. However, she senses that it's not enough, for either of them.
"Come here, baby…", she slides closer to her until she completely zeroes out the personal space between them, loosens her grip around her shoulders just long enough to take her legs and lay them on her lap, in an almost maternal gesture, and as she returns to hold her, she realizes something that had totally escaped her mind until this very moment.
"It was the night of the accident, wasn’t it?", no longer the night YOU ran over Ted, just the night of the accident.
A slight nod, totally unnecessary. "And that son of a bitch made you drive?", she blurts out caught in an excess of her usual anger.
"I had him call from the hospital while they were taking care of me, he told them to let him know when I was ready to leave. I waited there for almost four hours that night. I was still wearing my dress covered in blood. He told I must drive, because he was too upset to. He didn't even want to see her, to say goodbye to her… he was too upset to drive, can you imagine?", Jen's body stiffens in agitation, then an incredible sense of guilt invades her, Steve was an insensitive son of a bitch and a manipulator, - but I forced her to bury him, in the woods, so what kind of shitty person am I, then? -, her eyes fill with tears and she inhales in frustration. She feels Judy's grip on her arm grow firmer.
"No Jen, no…", the woman forces her to look at her. "I know what you're thinking, please don't. I don't want you to feel guilty about what happened next, I'm not telling you with that in mind", but the blonde avoids eye contact, her eyes are filled with tears and her mouth twists in an attempt to master the pain and revulsion towards herself, it's a moment and huge salty drops start rolling down her cheeks.
In an instinctive gesture Judy loosens the embrace and without thinking sits astride her lap so she can cup her face in her hands. She wipes away her tears with her thumbs, lovingly continuing to caress her skin. And it doesn't matter if Jen can't look at her, on the contrary, she has the feeling that it's better that way, the topic is painful, delicate and intimate, the very position of their two bodies is intimate, she realizes right now, and wonders what made her want to sit on her like this, it came naturally, but now she's not so sure she wants to stay this way so long. Still, she feels Jane's hands on her hips, and the woman doesn't seem bothered or uncomfortable, just focused on regaining control.
"I want to tell you how it went, that's all. I want you to know how it started. We wouldn't be here now otherwise. I don't know where I would be if things had gone differently. But I'm here, we're here, in spite of all the pain, the messes, the secrets, and I… there's nowhere else I'd rather be", the rumbling of her heart in her ears and the difficulty in breathing make her voice shake.
"It's our story, after all, right?", the realization of the implications of those words only reaches her only after she hears herself say them. Why is it always so fucking against her nature with Judy? And against her nature, she fastens her arms around her waist and reaches out, resting her head on her shoulder.
"Everything okay, Jen?", Judy asks, surprised by both the woman's statement and the sudden outpouring. She wraps her arms around her neck and sinks her face into the mass of blonde hair, inhaling her scent.
"Let's stay like this for a moment, shall we?", Jen proposes, losing herself in the warmth of their bodies.
It's always been this way, from the fucking very beginning! Inviting a stranger to live in her house! -well technically in the guest house-, -which I managed to get into after three fucking months, just to help her feel comfortable and turn it into a fucking... personal_hut_slash_home_slash_artistic_studio_slash_bedroom_slash_fucking_etcetera, perpetually invaded by the scent of those fucking shitty incenses!- and, moreover, when she had already betrayed her trust! What the fucking fuck was she thinking?
And yet… it's never been home the way it has since Judy's there. Not even when Ted was alive. Maybe in the early years, when Charlie was little? But she doesn't remember. It had gradually morphed into a place where everyone simply had their own space, and the only time the whole family could "share", and not even always, was in the evening at dinner.
Especially since she'd had her mastectomy. They played at being the perfect family, but not only had Ted not touched her since she'd returned from the hospital, he hadn't even slept in the same room, in their bed.
He'd play his part until the kids left for bed and, often without even bothering to wish her a fucking good night, he'd sneak into the guesthouse. The only reason he still kept his clothes and shoes in their room closet was just appearance. -Fuck you Ted!- Yeah...Ted's clothes and shoes, what the fuck was she waiting for to get rid of them?
The first person she shared her bed with, in almost two years, was Judy. And in that year and a half they have shared, -really shared-, that space almost every night, especially recently. It's their refuge now, the place where there's no place for grudges and anger. Maybe the place of tears, yes, but shared ones, in each other's arms. It is the place of reconciliations, -I thought you left it on purpose… as an excuse to see me again-did it work? -, of Facts of Life on TV, of serene hugs, of their fingers intertwined together under the covers, of incredibly long and restful sleeps, by her standards, of waking up snuggled together. It is the place of their ridiculous "I love you"
-Fucking angel on earth!- She loosens her grip and with a light kiss on a shoulder, pulls her away, guiding her to reposition herself on her side, as she did moments before. She rearranges the blanket over the tangle of legs and returns to pressing her into her arms.
"Go ahead", she whispers welcoming her head into the crook of her neck.
"I was sick for several days, from the accident, from the miscarriage, I couldn't stand up more than long enough to get to the bathroom and throw up the little I had managed to… ya know… throw down. I wanted informations about that night, but he kept me away from even my cell phone, telling me I just needed to rest and he would take care of everything and filling my head with bullshit to frighten me. I realized I needed to leave, as soon as possible. He kept calling me all the time when he wasn't home and it took all the effort I could muster to convince him that I wasn't going to do anything. The day I finally physically managed to stand for more than ten minutes, I left and went straight to the Police Station with the idea of turning myself in. But when I got there, while I was waiting for the officer in the lobby to give me an audience, I saw you. You were yelling at Perez, and I knew it was you. And that I was the person you were looking for, that you hated so much. I should have come forward right away, but I was cowardly, I couldn't face you, you were so pissed off… I left."
Jen swallows hard, her lips pressed into Judy's hair. The scent of her coconut shampoo floods her nostrils. She remembers that day, Ted's body was still in the hands of the Police and she was screaming at Perez to know why, instead of looking for the person responsible for her husband's death, they were wasting time holding him, preventing the family from giving him a fucking proper burial. She was broken, hadn't slept in days and was definitely drunk.
"The day of the funeral I came to the cemetery. I wanted to see you, to know how you were, how ludicrous, huh? How were you supposed to be? I saw the kids, God, my heart was shattered. Two days later I went back to the station. When I saw you there, for the second time in a row… well I… I took it as a sign. My spiritual shit, you know... Maybe I could have helped you in better way. I could have made you feel better, I don't know... Pretty cocky, huh? For someone who has always felt out of place everywhere and in everyone's way. To always feel inadequate and at the same time have the presumption to believe to can make some fucking difference to someone!"
"Hey… you've made a huge difference, to me and our boys, Jude! -Our boys- I don't know what I would have done and I don't know where I would be without you now. This is your home too, you're wanted here and anything but in the way", Jen whispers to her with sincerity and sweetness. She wouldn't have wanted to interrupt her, but at the same time, she couldn't stop herself from reassuring her. And now she doesn't know how to stop. Disgusting!
"Fuck, I was miserably drowning in my own shit, shit I'd been carrying around for years! Not since Ted died! With a husband I sucked up to and who was fucking a teenager, and a fucking shitty mother-in-law who enjoyed finding any excuse to express, all but veiled, her displeasure at every bit of shit! In front of Ted! In front of the fucking kids!", she marvels at the calm, quiet, and volume of her own voice, -fucking against her nature-, in spite of her language -absolutely in her nature-, and she knows who to thank for this calmness.
"A zero social life to protect me from any further sources of pressure, or worse, disappointment! To the kids, I was always the tough guy of the family! Ted was the permissive, loving one... I was too pissed off and too busy bringing home some fucking bread! And Ted was fine with that, he never bothered to team up. After all, he posed as a widowed father, didn't he?", this last comment makes her mouth twist, moved by resentment. And although Judy can't see her face, it's as if she senses the change in energy, and tightens her grip on her arm, out of empathy. Jen shifts position so she can look her in the eye, before continuing.
"You put things back together, but you did it in a new form, all your own, and if you look at it and experience it, this new form, it makes so much more sense than it did before! I just would be able to make you feel the way I felt the warmth in my heart the first time I came home and found all three of you at the kitchen counter eating pizza! Suddenly I had a supportive adult person next to me, helping me get our days on track, caring about the kids, and me, always ready to encourage everyone, to find the positive in everything. To find common ground that worked for everyone! A fucking angel on Earth, Judy!"
"And do we want to talk about Lorna? Oh my God it's fucking disgusting just the fact that I'm talking about her in a positive way! But, on Ted's birthday, after you let Perez take you because "that's what friends do" - Jen mimes the air quotes and rolls her eyes and Judy can't help but giggle at the pantomime - "Lorna was speechless when she realized that if she attacked you, she was risking as much with me as if she had attacked our boys -our boys-. But I know that during all this time she studied you, and she studied me too, and, well, she must have seen some good, because as time goes by she is less and less of a fucking rattlesnake with me and if you didn't notice, with you too! Of course... she still doesn't know that I finally appointed you as the kids' legal guardian, but, fuck her, I couldn't tell her that today when she came to pick them up!?", she playfully twists her mouth and the two share an open laugh.
"Sorry, it was a long interruption, but I had to tell you, do you want to continue?", and it's a small victory when she hears her resume speaking by not automatically responding with an "Okay" or a "It's okay" first.
"I was on that beach, thinking about you, looking for a way to get closer to you, but I had no idea you were going to be there, I didn't even know Pastor Wayne's support group was around there. I swear…"
"You don't need to swear, Jude. I believe you", her hand reaches for the brunette's and squeezes them, holding them in her lap.
"I remember watching the waves crash on the shoreline and making a promise. I would find a way to meet you, and I would do everything I could to make you better. Anything, Jen. And when I turned to leave, I saw you.", the memory of that moment is so vivid that she feels her heartbeat quicken instantly. She squeezes Jen's hand, for emphasis.
"It was only a moment before you disappeared below my line of sight, I think you were pouring yourself that horrible coffee. I wasn't sure it was you, but I could feel it. I couldn't help but get closer, and when I was sure you were really there… I knew that was the time", she concludes, lowering her gaze to their fingers intertwined together.
"Thanks for telling me, Jude", Jen whispers to her while absentmindedly playing with one of her rings. It's a habit now almost as old as "their story", playing with her hands. -That's what friends do, right? Uhm...- the thought crossed her mind for a moment and she almost burst out laughing not even knowing why.
Jen has never been the touching person, not only with strangers, but even with the people closest to her, aside from Henry and Charlie -when he lets her-. Yet, with Judy it was always different. This need to feel her close all the time, fucking gross. Codependent-like indeed! She remembers the night they were on the beach smoking a joint. The first time they went out together, after shared evenings talking on the phone for hours -Do you mind waiting until I fall asleep? -, the first time she laughed heartily, after months. Fuck, she'd found herself brushing shoulders with her while they'd been peeing around and it had been so fucking disgustingly pleasant! -so fucking against her nature-, yet so natural and instinctive, that her rationality hadn't even registered it at that very moment! It was only when she'd gotten home that she'd reconsidered it, not caring too much, branding it as a pleasant episode.
Judy looks up at the now dark sky, just as the blonde escapes a long yawn.
"Harding! It's just after nine o'clock and you're already sleepy?", Judy jokes in a jovial tone to lighten the gloomy mood of moments before. "We even forgot the wine! I can't believe it!", she adds with surprise.
"Oh my God this is really gross!", Jen retorts curling her lips playfully, wrenching a laugh from her which is joined by her own. And with a couple of pats on her leg, she invites her to get up.
"Well, you know what?", she adds as together they fold the blanket, "I think I'll go easy with wine and booze from now on", she says thoughtfully as Judy moves a step in her direction joining the corners of the blanket and leaving it for Jen.
"Okay, so this is serious!", she teases grabbing her shoulders, "Who are you? And what have you done with my Jen?", -my Jen-, the brunette exclaims in a theatrical tone shaking her. The other bursts into open laughter and lets go of the blanket on the couch seat, not caring about the folds.
"Well, actually that's exactly your Jen, you fucking angel", Jen mocks her by waving a finger in front of her nose, "Because if I've been reduced to love you more than wine it's only because of your fucking hippie whoo-whoo shit, my dear!", she concludes snickering along with the other. The finger continues to playfully tease the tip of Judy's nose, who tries to push it away from her face while keeping to giggle.
And without either of them being rationally aware of their movements, for a split second their lips touch and the next moment it's all over, leaving them both stunned. Silence falls as the two stare at each other with a half-smile each, amazed. It was just a peck, lightning-fast brush, not quite a kiss. Jen isn't sure if she was the only one who did the action, but she knows for sure that she moved toward Judy, it was instinctual, a reflex, she can't explain it. She blinks a few times, to wake up from the spell.
"What the fuck was that?", she exclaims stifling a laugh to mask an embarrassment she expects to feel, but strangely doesn't.
"Well... it was pretty sudden, so, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it was a kiss", Judy reasoned in a light tone, following the blonde's mood.
"Fuck yeah! But where did that come from? Sorry, I...", she runs her fingers through her hair, suddenly fearful.
"Jen…", the other calls out her and waits a long moment before continuing, "It's okay, really", she smiles serenely, confident that the pause served to convey that she really means what she says and that hers was not a Pavlov's dog reflex.
"Okay, come on, let's just go to sleep, I'm exhausted, seriously!", Jen cuts it short by extending a hand and as she does so she forces herself to wonder if that's the case, after what just happened.
"Uhm... No?", Judy teases raising an eyebrow, showing herself not at all upset by the last minute events.
"Didn’t we decided to start tomorrow with this NO shit?!", the blonde protests feigning disappointment. Warm fingers touch hers and intertwine together, as always, they enter through the back door and their passage to the bedroom is marked by the lights that one by one go off, as always.
And the two women wonder to themselves if the unexpected moment they shared really happened.