Abby chewed on her lip as she looked across the kitchen table at her girlfriend. She’d done so so often that now her lips were chapped, dry and prone to bleeding. Despite her worry, she had kept silent. Whatever was bothering Harper, she would tell her in her own time.
The silence was palpable. Things hadn’t been right since they had both moved to be closer to Harper’s family. Abby could tell something was wrong. Harper was definitely keeping something from her. She lowered her head. She really didn’t want to ask, but they couldn’t carry on in the denial that everything was fine. She couldn’t keep lying to herself. Harper would never be ready without a little pushing. With a heavy sigh, she lifted her head so that she could look into her fiance’s eyes. “Harper, what’s wrong? You’ve been distant ever since we moved. When you do talk I just feel like you’re mad at me. I’ve gone over and over in my mind and I can’t think of anything I could have done.”
For a moment, Harper’s eyes widened, but she soon recovered a calmer expression. “Nothing. Everything’s fine.” Her quick, clipped response suggested otherwise.
“Oh. Okay.” Abby shrugged, although she wasn’t about to just let the matter slide. The lie was disappointing. Every problem they had in their relationship had stemmed from Harper being too afraid to be honest. Her spoon, which had been gripped tightly in her fingers, clattered against the table. Breakfast had suddenly become very unappetising. “I mean, I thought we’d learned a lesson around pretending everything’s okay when it’s not.” She shrugged again before mumbling, “If you think that’s best though, whatever.”
Harper’s brow furrowed. Abby felt soft, searching, eyes imploring her to let it go. Harper grabbed the edge of the table as it became clear that Abby wasn’t budging. Her grip made the tension she was feeling apparent. She couldn’t quite meet Abby’s eyes as she rushed out the thing that had been bothering her. “I don’t like that you’re spending so much time with Riley.”
Abby laughed, although it was quiet and full of sarcasm. “Excuse me. What?”
“We moved so that I could spend more time with my parents and sisters. Not so that you could spend more time with Riley.”
“So, what, I’m not allowed to have friends?” Abby shook her head. She’d been able to forgive a lot; able to understand some of Harper’s choices. However, controlling behaviour was something she would never tolerate. “What do you want me to do when you’re busy writing?”
Harper rolled her eyes. “You’re allowed to have friends, Abby. You just don’t need to be friends with my ex.”
“Oh. Okay. Cool. I get it. I’ll just go make some guy friends. Oh,” Abby paused, a finger in the air, as though a thought was only just occurring to her. “No, wait. You probably still fucked them too.”
Harper was silent, her lips parted slightly. The words had hurt her. It wasn’t a fair thing for Abby to say, and she knew that.
“Sorry.” Abby stood, getting ready to walk away from the argument. She knew she’d gone too far and didn’t want to make things any worse. “That wasn’t..” Embarrassed, she awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck with her hand. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that. I just don’t see what the problem is.”
“The problem is that,” for a moment Harper buried her face in her hands, looking embarrassed by what she was about to say. “Riley likes you, okay? I feel like a teenager again even caring about that. Which is why I hadn’t said anything.”
“What? No,” Abby shook her head as a blush crept onto her face. “You’re wrong. Besides, I’m not, it doesn’t go both ways. I love you.”
“So, we agree?”
“Oh, no. No, we do not agree. Riley is literally my only friend here. Everyone else still thinks I’m a common criminal. Plus you’re my girlfriend, not my mom.”
“If you can’t trust me,” Abby twisted her engagement ring from her finger and threw it down onto the table. “Maybe we shouldn’t be getting married.”
“Yeah,” Harper nodded, despite the tears that had begun to slowly trickle down her cheeks. “Maybe we shouldn’t.”
“Hey,” Abby said softly. She’d never meant for that to happen. She’d never meant to make Harper cry. She was about to go to her, wipe her tears away with her thumb and tell her that she loved her and everything would be okay. She stopped herself, though. She couldn’t keep giving in every time Harper cried. “I’m going out.”
“Abby, wait. This is stupid. Please, just,” she picked up Abby’s ring and held it out to her. “At least put this back on. Please?”
“No. I’m done. I’m out.”
Riley hadn’t been expecting Abby to call her, but she certainly hadn’t been disappointed when her name flashed up on her screen. A few minutes later and she was sitting across from her in their usual haunt. Her eyes narrowed as she observed a tense Abby, who gripped her coffee mug so tightly that Riley was afraid it might shatter. Her red eyes also alerted Riley to the fact that Abby had been crying.
“I think this is probably a really stupid question,” Riley said as she dropped a cube of sugar into her black coffee and gabe it a stir. She needed to do something with her hands. Anything to distract. Anything to stop her from grabbing Abby’s hands and telling her that whatever it was, it was okay. Whatever it was, she would fix it. No. She had to stay calm. “Because the answer is very clearly no, but are you okay?”
Abby shook her head. “I think I just ended things with Harper,” she mumbled.
“What?” Riley spluttered as she stopped stirring her coffee, although her fingers still gripped the spoon. “Why?”
“Things have been off between us since we moved.” Abby shrugged. She looked tired. To Riley, she looked like someone who had simply given up. “Today I finally asked what’s going on and she insisted that I cut contact with you because apparently you like me. Which is obviously crazy.”
“Oh,” Riley nodded. “Yeah, totally. Totally crazy. Harper is just insane in the brain, alright.” She smiled, although it was really more of a grimace than a smile.
Abby nodded, then twisted her fingers together, something Riley had noticed she did a lot when anxious. “Do you forgive Harper?” Abby questioned, out of the blue. “For, you know, outing you to protect herself?”
Riley’s answer was immediate. “Yes. Absolutely. She was a teenager and she was scared. And, honestly? If it had been the other way around I don’t think I could say I wouldn’t have done the same. I’m gonna guess you don’t? For lying to you about her family, I mean.”
“You wouldn’t have. I’m not sure whether I do or not. I thought I did.”
Riley chuckled. It was nice that Abby thought so much of her, but she had definitely grown a lot since her teenage years. Really, it was a shame that she found herself unable to say the same of Harper. “That’s nice that you think that, but you didn’t know me then.” She sighed. She was in a fight with herself, struggling to make sure that her words held no bias. “This is probably a super biased opinion, but how Harper treated you was wrong. She’s an adult now. To force you back into the closet without a word of warning was absolutely not okay. She had reasons, but reasons are not free passes to treat people you care about like crap. If you’re struggling to forgive her for that, it’s valid. You’re valid.”
“I thought I was over it,” Abby said slowly, obviously still processing how she felt, “but she still keeps things from me. I don’t think I can be with someone who won’t talk to me unless I force the point. That’s not how I roll.”
Riley nodded. Her expression was neutral, but then for a moment her brow furrowed, betraying the consternation that the conversation caused. “Abby, I don’t think I’m the best person for you to talk to about this.”
Abby didn’t speak, but raised her eyebrows, waiting for further explanation.
“Harper isn’t wrong.”
“Oh,” Abby said softly. “That complicates things”
“No, it doesn’t,” She blurted out, desperate not to lose Abby’s friendship. “I can see how much you love Harper, I would never come between you two. I just can’t promise that any advice I give you isn’t tainted.”
“Oh, yeah. No, I get that. Fuck.” Abby rested her forehead in the palm of her hand.
Abby shook her head
“Do you need me to go?”
“No. It’s just, you’re really the only friend I have here and, really, are you gonna wanna stick around to be just my friend?”
“Hey, hey.” she leaned across the table and grabbed Abby’s arm, gently pulling her hand away from her head, “Look at me. Yes, I am attracted to you. I am not, however, about to go home and start writing poetry about how heartbreaking it is to see you with another woman. Chill out.”
“Okay.” Abby chewed on her lip. “But what if I said it’s a mutual attraction. What if I said right now I want to, i don’t know, take you out to dinner right now. Wine, dine and sixty-nine.”
Riley had chosen an in opportune moment to take a sip of her coffee, and found herself choking on it a little as she heard Abby’s comment. “First of all, there will be no sixty-nining ever. Secondly, if that’s the best pick-up line you have, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Thirdly, no.”
“No?” Riley was sure that she heard disappointment in Abby’s voice, but it didn’t matter.
“I actually value our friendship. Tomorrow you’d wake up, realise how much you love Harper and hate me for ever allowing you to jeopardize what you have with her. You’re not thinking clearly right now and I’m not taking advantage of that.” It was tempting though. So tempting.
“I was only kidding.”
“No, you weren’t.” Riley shook her head. “You’re angry and you’re looking for ways to act out. I am not that desperate.”
Abby shook her head “Maybe you’re half right, but I wouldn’t ever just use you. I do, uh. I am attracted to you.”
“Yeah? Who isn’t?” Riley asked, followed by a smirk.
“Wrong.” Again, the smirk.
Abby smiled for the first time during the whole conversation. Riley wasn’t too sure whether Abby believed her or not, but it was nice to have an air of mystery.
“While the sixty-nine is a hard no, I’m not opposed to wine, dine and supine. If things with you and Harper really don’t work out.” She was smiling, but her face fell as she realised Abby wasn’t wearing her ring. It had been nice to pretend for a moment, to tease. However, the missing ring made everything feel very real. “Abby, where’s your ring?”
“I was mad. I took it off when we were fighting.” She shrugged. “It was stupid.”
“Please don’t throw everything away over something so stupid. Don’t fight over me. I’m really, really not worth it.” Riley grabbed up her bag and rose quickly “I, I have to go. But call me, okay? Let me know,” her voice broke, but she cleared her throat and regained her composure, “let me know how things go.”
Riley felt like she couldn’t catch a breath as she left the cafeteria, moving as fast as she could. Once outside, she leaned against the wall of the place, trying to ground herself, trying to slow down her breathing. She tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall.
For so long she’s refused to allow herself to be vulnerable. The way in which Harper had forced her to come out had left her unable to ever really trust anyone to allow for anything more than a one night stand. She didn’t let people in; she didn’t let people have the chance to stab her in the back. With Abby, she had a strong sense that she was going to end up hurt and it wouldn’t even be Abby’s fault. A happy ending in any capacity wasn’t on the horizon. She knew that. And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to just walk away. As stupid as it might be, she felt a need to see their friendship through to it’s bloody end.
Having forgotten to pick up her keys when she stormed out, Abby found herself ringing the doorbell to her own home. It was a little embarrassing, really. She had a hard time pressing her finger against the button and hesitated several times before doing so. Abby knew she hadn’t acted in the most mature manner. Tearing her ring off, going straight to see Riley. It was stupid and crazy and she found herself struggling to think why it had ever seemed like a sensible idea.
The door opened, far too slowly. Abby held her breath, unsure how Harper would react to her return.
Harper said nothing, which somehow felt worse than if she had yelled. Her arms were folded. Her eyebrows were raised. Abby knew she didn’t deserve such a calm welcome.
Abby pushed a few strands of her hair behind her ear before bowing her head and shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket. The silence was awkward, as Harper’s eyes bored into her. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s okay,” Harper admitted with a shrug of her shoulders. “I have no right to tell you who to spend time with. I just wish you hadn’t stormed off as you did. I also wish we’d admitted to ourselves earlier that things just aren’t working out.”
Abby’s brow furrowed. She wasn’t sure exactly when they had admitted things weren’t working out, but it hardly mattered. She licked her lips. Anxiety had caused her mouth to suddenly become very dry. She didn’t know whether to be honest or hide the truth in order to smooth things over. Of course, lies had never helped their relationship. “Can I come in?” She asked stupidly, as if she didn’t live there.
Harper nodded then moved to one side to allow Abby access.
Abby walked in and headed for the lounge. “Come sit with me?”
Again, Harper nodded. Still, she was silent. She seemed distant, her face was very pale. Abby knew that nothing good was about to happen, but she made the decision then that whatever did happen, it would be as good as it possibly could be.
Sitting on their small, leather sofa felt rather too intimate for the inevitable conversation. Pushed close together, it almost felt as though things could be okay again. It almost felt as though they should talk about how their relationship could move forward. No. It would only delay the inevitable and cause further pain in the long run. Still, despite this she still took a hold of Harper’s hand, although she perhaps gripped it much more tightly than she ever had before. Harper didn’t object or try to stop her.
“I have to be honest. I just met with Riley and uh, it was kinda stupid, considering what we just fought about,” she chuckled, it suddenly occurring to her how ridiculous the situation was. “You weren’t wrong.”
Harper looked surprised, her eyes widening. “I didn’t realise that’s who you’d gone to, but I should have known,” she sighed. “It’s fine,” Harper said, although her quiet, melancholic voice suggested that nothing was really fine. “We both know that this isn’t just about Riley. This is about us just not working any more. I’ve always been really good at being who the people I’m around needed me to be. Since I came out to my parents I’ve been trying to just be more me. I’m not saying you should just go straight to Riley and start something with her. But um. God, this is so embarrassing,” she rolled her eyes, looking up at the ceiling for a moment. “When we met I could tell you needed someone with an edge. Someone who wasn’t afraid to just take the bull by the horns, you know? That’s not really me. So I used to ask myself what would Riley do? Riley is literally perfect for you. In some ways she’s who you fell in love with, and that’s why I got so freaked out to have her suddenly around again.”
“No. I fell in love with a version of you, not Riley. I don’t love Riley. I haven’t even known her long enough to say that. I’m really sorry that you didn’t get to come out in the best way. But, like. We can work through that together. I’m willing to go to therapy with you. Anything” She couldn’t help it. Despite having told herself no, she ended up trying anyway. Agreeing to therapy was a big thing for Abby. She’d been when her parents had died and found the whole process so contrived. She’d been unable to be open in such an environment and after hours of stilted conversation with a clearly frustrated therapist, she had sworn never to attempt such a thing again.
“Oh, Abby.” For a moment Harpers gentle tone made it seem as though she was going to say yes, but then the other seemed to come to her senses. “We have to let each other go,” she said as she glanced towards their hands, hers still clasped within Abby’s. “It’s really stupid of us to try to cling to something that’s never gonna be what either of us wants it to be. I love you, but it’s like we’re running perpendicular. So, so close. But we’re never quite gonna be in exactly the same place at the same time.”
“I love you too,” Abby’s voice wavered.
“Do you? Or do you love a version of me who doesn’t exist any more? A version who you hope to see every day. Do you love me, or are you just waiting, hoping things are gonna go back to how they were? They’re not.”
“I don’t know.” Abby shook her head, suddenly feeling very lost and confused.
“Well, I do,” Harper said as she pulled her hand out of Abby’s. “I also know that we’re ending this now, before we hate each other.” Now it was time for Harper’s voice to break. “Cos I don’t think I can handle you hating me,” she said in a whisper before wiping away her tears.
“I would never hate you,” Abby declared passionately, sounding almost angry that Harper thought such a thing could ever be possible.
“You would. Eventually. Give me your hand.”
“I don’t...no.” Even with her mind made up, she still fought against it. Of course she did. She was terrified of being left all alone again. Alone in the world with no clue how to be alone. Of course, this time would be different. This time she would know what to do. Not that it made the pain and fear any less.
“Yes.” Harper slipped her engagement ring from her finger and pressed it into Abby’s palm, along with Abby’s own ring which she had been carrying in her pocket. “Take them. I want you to have them. We had some good times. Remember those. You don't have to give up this place or anything, either. I’m gonna move in with mom and dad for a bit.”
Abby sighed, before standing. “I need a minute,” She said as she felt her chest tighten and suddenly the simple act of breathing felt almost impossible.
Alone in the bathroom, Abby clung to the sink as she stared into the mirror, wondering how on earth she had gotten to where she was. She was far too old to be looking for the right person. Too much longer and she really was going to wind up alone. And then she realised, she wasn’t upset at losing Harper, simply terrified of the prospect of being alone. That’s when she knew that the decision was correct. Any doubts left. She had her moment. She shed a few tears before splashing some cold water into her face, taking a deep breath and going back out to face something that would be so very difficult whilst also being exactly what both of them needed.
“You need any help packing?” Abby asked brightly as she unclasped the necklace she wore and slid the two rings Harper had given her onto it. The brightness was slightly forced, but it showed how she intended to continue. She wouldn’t dwell. She refused to act sad, even though her heart was just a little broken. She had loved Harper once, afterall. The least she could do was be amicable, even if they wound up not being friends. “Not that I’m trying to rush you.”
“Oh, God, yes please. If you don’t mind. You don’t have to.”
“No, but I want to. Like you said, I don’t hate you. Yet,” she added with a wink.
Harper smiled, then her eyes narrowed slightly as she hesitated. “Are we sure this is the right thing?”
“Were you happy?”
Harper shook her head.
“We both deserve to be happy. So yeah,” Abby chewed on her lip, her vow to not be sad wavering for a moment. “This kinda sucks. But it’s the right thing to do.”