Laughter spilled from the threshold of the kitchen and filled Carol’s otherwise quiet house. Blue-grey smoke from the end of Abby’s cigarette curled into the air and obscured the dim lighting, casting a veil over Carol’s image in her line of sight. Abby exhaled another lungful of smoke and put out her cigarette, waving her hand in front of her to clear the air.
“You nitwit, you’re fucking lucky Harge isn’t home,” Abby laughed.
“Oh, God, could you imagine? He would be so cranky if he saw me having a good time,” Carol said, a twinge of annoyance creeping into her voice. “You’re fucking lucky Rindy’s a heavy sleeper,” she continued pointedly, glaring at Abby. “I haven’t laughed like that since…” she trailed off, not wanting to ruin the mood by bringing up her and Abby’s recent history.
Abby caught on though, and just nodded, painfully aware of the uncomfortable tension settling into the room.
Carol turned to the counter, away from Abby, to pour another drink. The brunette stared at her, completely distracted by how consistently elegant she was. Even in the comfort of her own home and in the presence of her best friend, Carol was still completely perfect. It never ceased to amaze Abby just how unbelievable Carol truly was -- a perfect balance of conventional femininity and bold (however quiet) rebellion. It was this quality that drew Abby in, even at a young age, and kept her close. She was inspired by, and quite honestly very, very, attracted to, Carol’s intense pursuit of her desires and her ability to refrain from ruffling anyone’s feathers in the process.
Carol and Abby grew up together, tied to each other by an invisible string of inevitability. Neither woman had ever met anyone else with whom they’d had such a visceral emotional connection or such a comfortable coexistence. Their friendship was a (probably the only) constant in either of their lives, even when they were physically separated, and they each depended on it, though they would never admit it. As they matured, their connection extended past their realm of understanding, and the change in dynamic between them was one of the scariest things Abby had ever experienced. Despite this, her trust in Carol never faltered. Even as they tapped into their mutual attraction and pushed the boundaries of their relationship, Abby had never once felt unsafe (a large contrast to how the rest of her life had begun to feel).
Their romantic involvement was simultaneously the most confusing and most clarifying experience of Abby’s life -- she felt more seen and more loved than she ever had before despite the limited and fleeting nature of their relationship. They rarely saw each other outside their shop and rarely spoke, save for late night phone conversations and stolen glances. Occasionally, they were able to spend the night together, but it was always stress-ridden. The sex was always rushed and hasty as if someone were about to break in, even in the privacy of Abby’s home. And Harge was always fucking there, even now. Sexually, they’d been over for years, but they never truly stopped their romantic tendencies, and it drove Harge up the wall. This was the first night in months they were alone together.
Abby watched Carol, basking in her familiar movements and smooth demeanour. The brunette could almost feel the curve of Carol’s waist under her palm, the smell of her shampoo, the taste of her skin at the end of the day. These were Abby’s favourite moments, the ones where she could pretend their sexually charged nights were going somewhere instead of ending with Abby walking out to her car and crying quietly as she drove home. Every. Single. Time. God, she fucking missed Carol. There was nothing about her she didn’t miss, and she could list every little thing she yearned to experience again at the drop of a hat.
“Abby? You okay, honey? You’re miles away.”
Abby snapped out of her daze and caught Carol’s gaze, completely overcome with drunken adoration. She just stared at Carol, unsure how to even hold a proper conversation anymore. Normally, at this point in the night, when she was overwhelmed with this same deep ache, she would see herself out. Tonight was different, though, tonight felt important.
“When’s Harge coming home?” The brunette asked finally, swallowing hard to ease the lump in her throat.
“Probably past midnight, we both know how he gets,” Carol replied, rolling her eyes. “Are you okay, Abby?”
Abby shifted uncomfortably in her seat, the heat of Carol’s stare was becoming too much for her to handle -- she could feel her eyes rake over her face, down the length of her body. Abby normally felt comfortable with the blonde’s roaming eyes, but tonight she wanted to scream. She needed Carol to understand that she hadn’t moved on. That she might never be able to.
Carol strode over to where Abby was sitting, took her hands in hers, and bore her eyes into Abby’s.
“Talk to me,” she whispered.
“Carol,” was all Abby could manage, her tone bordering on a whine.
Tears streamed down her face as she tried to form actual words to tell Carol how she felt. The blonde took her face in her hands and wiped the tears away as they fell, inadvertently making Abby cry harder.
“Abby, please,” Carol pleaded, heart aching for the sore sight in front of her.
Abby could have laughed at how ironic it was that Carol was pleading with her when she felt the way she did; how many times she’d heard those words slip from the blonde’s lips, somehow each time in a wildly different scenario. Abby’s breath hitched in her throat. She leaned into Carol’s touch, selfishly dragging out the moment of physical closeness she so seldom got to have. She sighed,
“I miss you,” she said quietly.
So quietly, in fact, that Carol questioned whether or not she’d actually said anything at all. Abby watched as Carol’s face became shadowed with uncertainty and moved her face out of her hands. She shoved the chair back and stood, haphazardly lighting another cigarette.
“I’ll leave, just let me get my things,” she said, voice thick and unsure.
“What do you mean ‘no’? Carol, I’m leaving.”
“Abby, stop that. What do you mean?” Abby just stared at her incredulously.
How can she not understand three measly fucking words?
“Carol, I don’t know what you want from me. I spend my every waking moment wishing. That’s what my life has fucking come to. I love you with every fibre of my being and you don’t give a shit!” Abby was livid now; her face was flushed and her voice cracked with raw emotion, but she didn’t care.
Carol’s face softened as she watched the one person she’d ever truly loved snap. She’d never seen Abby so feral and angry, never been so taken aback by her words.
“I have a child, Abby.”
“What… I… Carol, I don’t see how this is relevant. Rindy wasn’t an issue before. And you don’t even like Harge, so I don’t know what’s holding you back!” Abby was crying again, this time out of frustration.
“Do you really still love me?”
“Are you fucking blind?” Abby spat.
Carol rubbed her forehead and sighed.
“We act like we’re still together, Carol. You act like at the end of the night you’re going to take me upstairs and have sex with me, but every night I get in my car and cry. I still need you, and you fuck around with me like I don’t matter!” Carol looked at her expectantly, almost waiting for her to continue.
Abby took a long drag from her cigarette and swiped the tears from her cheeks.
“Abby, what do you want from me?” Carol asked, exasperated.
Despite the sting of her words, Abby knew she was being genuine.
“Carol, what are we doing?” Abby countered, defeated.
Her face fell, mirroring Carol’s, as each of them mulled over the question. What were they doing? Carol was silent for a long while. Sure, some small part of her knew that Abby still had feelings for her, but she’d neglected to address her own feelings in the matter. She’d been avoiding and deflecting in hopes she’d never have to face Abby like this, but now she was forced to confront her own unfinished business.
Carol thought back to the days they spent in their furniture shop, the ones filled with laughter and light touches, loud voices and quick kisses when they were sure no one was around. The days where Carol felt untouchable and invincible as if she was invisible to society’s prying eye. With Abby she felt free -- free to be authentic and carefree, but also free from her burdens. She never had, and never would, feel that way with Harge. Her and Abby’s relationship -- both platonic and romantic -- transcended simple definition. Carol knew that, in this way, Abby was her soulmate.
“I love you, too,” Carol whispered, moving towards Abby. “I haven’t stopped. But I can’t… this can’t happen. I wish it could, darling, I really do. We both know it would never work.”
She took Abby into her arms, unphased by the cigarette still burning in her hand. Abby breathed in her scent and was immediately comforted. She missed this so much. There was nothing she wouldn’t give to have this again.
“Can we not just have this? Whatever this is? Can we just be together like this, please?” Carol asked, words muffled by Abby’s hair.
Her voice was small and so unlike how it was normally. Abby had never seen Carol this way, so unsure and hesitant. It made her words more believable (as if she wouldn’t believe Carol no matter what until her last dying breath) and so much more potent. Carol needed Abby as much as Abby needed Carol.
Abby was the first to move, pulling herself from Carol’s embrace and picking up her purse. She put out her cigarette, squeezed Carol’s hand, and walked to the front door.
“I love you, Carol.”
“We can deal with this in the morning, okay? Call me.”
Abby stepped out the door. Carol didn’t even watch her out the window like she normally did. She couldn’t stand to even look at her again for fear she might do something rash and stupid. She was scared she might not be able to stop the confessions of undying adoration from falling from her lips, scared she might not be able to stop herself from taking Abby upstairs as she’s wanted to do again for so long. The knowledge that their mutual feelings remained sparked something deep inside of her that she hadn’t felt for a long time.
She braced herself against the counter as a sob racked her body. What the hell did she do? She’d made so many goddamn mistakes with Abby and she continued to fuck it up. If there had been any way to repair their relationship and live a competent life with Abby, she would have taken it a long time ago. There was no plausible solution to their problems. They would continue to hurt each other over and over again, but Carol didn’t want it any other way. She didn’t think she could survive without Abby.
She stood like that, crying into the kitchen sink, for twenty minutes before she saw Harge’s car pull into the drive. Huffing, she reached for her untouched glass and drank the whole thing back in one mouthful. She rubbed her forehead and rushed up the stairs, quietly so as not to wake Rindy, hoping to avoid Harge’s drunken stupor.
That night, Carol fell asleep thinking of all the things she should have said to Abby. The missed opportunities of their past relationship ran through her mind faster than she could think. Abby, on the other hand, didn’t sleep. She stared out her window wondering how she could continually allow herself to feel so terribly for a woman she knew she had no real chance with. But it was Carol, for God’s sake, she would rather play this stupid game with her than anyone else.