When Rachel woke she did so with a start, her heart pounding in her chest, the heat of Florida chasing her to the door of consciousness. She remembers the pipe tearing through her, the pulsating pain she ignored as she pushed herself forward, towards home. Towards Karen.
She pushed the blankets off more hurriedly than she usually did, wanting to feel the cool New York air. The door and window in their bathroom were both opened, letting in the sounds of the city. She was alone and it hurt to stand, having to rely heavily on the cane the hospital suggested she buy, but it hurt more to be alone.
cheddar was thankfully right outside the door, sitting on the bannister that overlooked the foyer. He turned when he heard the door open, leaping elegantly to the ground by her feet. She wished she could bend to pet the cat but she feared she’d scream and disturb whatever Karen was doing. Work, possibly.
She checked the clock. It was the early afternoon. She hadn’t slept so well in months but she’d slept later. Georgina Stickney was a late riser because she had nowhere to be and no one who loved her. She had a degree in communications and a husband who’d died choking on a hotdog during a hotdog eating contest.
“Yes, I miss my husband’s big strong masculine arms around me at night. But do you know what I miss more? his hotdog. By which I mean his...girthy, wide, male penis. ”
Thinking about her fictional husband made her miss her real wife more, which she hadn’t thought was possible. Florida had been all missing Karen. It’d sunk into her like water into sand. First the optimism; maybe they’d find Figis in a month. Two. By the third she had begun to have a persistent pain in her chest whenever she was alone.
When that became unbearable she would peer over the fence or look through her living room window to spy on Peralta, who seemed to have been in much the same predicament. She had once watched the younger woman tie her hair back into a ponytail, lecture herself and then sob in front of the mirror for half an hour. Rachel only stopped watching because the detective had sunk to the floor, invisible from her vantage point.
“Thank you cheddar, I am alright. ” She told the cat who blinked at her before meowing in assent.
Rachel walked past the staircase to explore the second floor more thoroughly. It was best to exhaust the upstairs before unnecessarily suffering the humiliation of trying to get downstairs without assistance. Last time she’d tried her leg had straightened itself mid-bend in an attempt to relieve the pain and she’d fallen down the remaining few stairs. Karen had had to drive her to the hospital, lying in the backseat.
“You are not a young woman anymore.” Her wife had told her as they sat in the waiting room. She had been looking across the room and holding Rachel’s cane primly in her lap, a contrast to the rest of her outfit; pajamas with a sweater vest hastily pulled over her top in an attempt to look presentable. “And I thought your daredeviling days were behind you.”
I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed those days, if I recall correctly. Was what Rachel should have said. She could very clearly remember backflipping over a speeding car which had murderous intent and landing back on the ground, unharmed. She had then turned and shot the car's tires out. She’d had an afro. She’d been in her early 30’s. She’d felt invincible.
When Karen had been told the story over dinner her then-girlfriend’s stare had become very heated.
“What a dangerous thing to do.”
“Danger is my middle name.”
“No it isn’t, Rachel Jaqueline Holt.”
“I’ve been thinking of a change recently. How does Rachel Jaqueline Danger Holt dash Cozner sound?”
“Too long.” Karen had breathed, moving across the table which separated them and parking herself in Rachel’s lap. “Far too long.”
But instead Rachel had said nothing, paying close attention to the unfamiliar way her wife’s hair cascaded over her shoulders. It had been the third thing Karen had said to her after returning. The first was “Your leg looks infected.” and the second was “I can’t believe you’re here, you’re really here.”
“Your hair…” Rachel had said, looking blearily up at the burnt orange locks. Karen looked to be illuminated by a holy light which she later understood to be the hospital’s fluorescents but in the moment she’d nearly cried, reaching out to touch her. Her wife was standing in front of her and she was an angel.
Karen had blinked then looked bashful, curling a section of her hair around her fingers girlishly before her face became stony and she yanked the hand away. One of her little quirks, whenever she did something she thought was unbearably silly.
Rachel’s hand was still outstretched and Karen, raising her eyes, noticed and took it. Her hands were cold from being outside. She’d later tell Rachel that she’d run to the hospital when they’d called. She happened to be a few blocks away. A ‘few’ was later revealed to be twenty five.
“I grew it out.” Karen said softly. “I didn’t want...it’s silly.”
“You’re beautiful.” Rachel had said, high out of her mind on painkillers. “Why are you so beautiful?”
“Oh, Rae…” She’d kissed her then and no more was said on the subject as Rachel kept interrupting anything Karen tried to say by telling her how beautiful she was and asking if she was her wife…her wife? Her wife? and every patient confirmation felt like a miracle. This beautiful woman was her wife!
As she made her way through the upper floor she heard the creak of a chair and was relieved to know that Karen was indeed upstairs and from the very quiet sound of it, working.
Rachel peered through the slightly ajar door of their office/guest bedroom and saw Karen’s back. She was sitting at the desk, books on either side of her, in the midst of scholarly passion: very quiet and intensive study. Quiet, scholarly passion was the most erotic of all passions.
Torn between interrupting and watching, Rachel simply stood at the door and took in the sight of her wife working. She had pulled her hair back into a ponytail with a scrunchie that Debbie had apparently given her. It was lavender and sparkled in the light, absurdly cheap and not like Karen at all. Karen would opt for something neutral and sleek, something that wouldn’t draw attention. Perhaps hair accessories were different from the rest of her aesthetic tastes. Rachel didn’t quite know, she’d been buzzing her hair for years and Karen had, though cycling through a variety of styles, kept hers relatively short for around the same length of time.
The first time Rachel buzzed her hair was after Madeline had come into work without a bouffant or a cigarette. “Times are changing, Rachel.” she’d told her, jabbing a lollipop into the air like a blade. “Smoking is out. And bouffants. It’s adapt or die and I’m not going to go out there and embarrass myself. Like in front of Derek Jeter.”
“The Derek Jeter thing...wasn’t...that bad.”
“Like hell it wasn’t.”
When Karen had seen her hair she hadn’t commented much on it. In fact she’d been downright avoidant of the subject and Rachel had been worried she disliked it.
“She thinks I’m ugly. Of course she does, she grew up having crushes on horse girls. Their hair is supernaturally long. How do they do it? Maybe I should-”
“I’m not letting you go down to the race tracks.” Madeline had told her. They were both on the small balcony near the back of the building that they’d discovered and swore to tell no one about. The window that was supposed to overlook it was bricked over and the only entrance was from the indoor stairwell which they had to climb out of and into in seconds in order not to be seen.
“Why not? I might as well gamble what’s left of my life away.” Rachel had said, placing her head in her hands. “Why did I not let Debbie braid my hair?”
“Too much upkeep.” Madeline asserted, shielding her cigarette from the wind as she lit it.
“I thought you were quitting.”
“Too much upkeep.”
But Karen had begun to show more and more interest in her hair until one night she came out of the bathroom with her own hair, which had previously been styled after Farah Fawcett, looking more like she’d stuck her head in a woodchipper and let nature run its course.
“I require your assistance.” She’d said, trying very hard to look dignified.
After that they’d cut their hair together. One of Rachel’s most erotic memories was of being between Karen’s legs, neck bent at her mercy; ‘Hold still...move left? A bit to the right...no, further...yes. Hm.’ Karen’s hand on her neck, the vibrations from the buzzer, her wife’s bare legs around her, Rachel’s own closed eyes...it was...more invigorating than she cared to admit.
“What are you doing out there?” Karen asked, standing in front of the door.
Rachel balked, startling backwards, and Karen grabbed her arm to keep her from falling.
“I apologize for scaring you.”
“No, no, the fault is mine. I did not wish to disturb you.”
“You could not disturb me if you tried.” Karen assured her, taking Rachel’s hand and kissing it. “Did you rest well?”
Rachel stared at her lips. “Yes. You should wake me. In the future I mean.”
Karen hummed in disagreement, going to arrange the papers that were on her table. “There’s no harm in getting some rest after an injury.”
“A sleep routine is something that must be carefully, routinely, maintained.” Rachel recited, sitting on the bed. It was a familiar conversation to fall into. Karen continued to shuffle and neaten her work station. “Hence the name. Even a few days of lackadaisical lie-ins will throw my internal rhythms off balance.”
Karen was wearing a button up and khakis, forgoing a sweater in their own home. She also seemed to be foregoing a bra as Rachel could see through the shirt’s gapping. The shirt that had been Rachel’s until she’d gone to Florida.
“Is that my shirt?” She asked, knowing the answer.
Karen paused before continuing on, face turned from Rachel. “Perhaps.”
Rachel let her question go unspoken and eventually Karen finished her busywork, straightening and reaching back to pull the scrunchie effortlessly from her hair onto her wrist. The light hit it and made her hair, which could normally be mistaken for brown, shine red. Breathtaking.
Karen looked over her shoulder towards Rachel before turning fully and sitting beside her. “Rae, are you alright?”
“Yes. I…” Rachel looked down at Karen’s hand and placed hers over it, turning it and intertwining their fingers meaningfully. Karen’s posture relaxed and she placed her free hand on Rachel’s cheek, tilting her head up to kiss her.
They hadn’t kissed like that in awhile, hadn’t had the time. Karen’s hands were warm and her body was jagged where Rachel’s curved. Karen bit where Rachel kissed, pinched where Rachel pat. By the time they separated Rachel was lying down with Karen half on top of her, avoiding her leg. Rachel had undone a few buttons on her shirt and was now met with the view of her breasts, hand-sized, perfect. Her fingers twitched as Karen’s own hands ran slowly up her stomach.
“We should...continue this later.” Karen exhaled. “I have work.”
“Your hair. Why did you grow it out?” Rachel asked.
Karen’s hair was falling down over her face, a new sensation. Rachel felt as if they were in their own small world that didn’t expand beyond the borders of her wife’s jaw. Karen looked down at her steadily, gaze flicking slightly from Rachel’s lips to her eyes.
“It’s silly. I promised myself that I wouldn’t cut it until you returned home.” Karen said.
“Why?” Rachel asked, wanting to hear more. She thought it sounded very noble of her wife, like something out of the myths and tragedies she loved so much.
“I don’t know. I was wallowing. My work suffered and I felt...unable to do anything. I was lost without you and I felt that this would…” She paused to make sure the words came out right. “I wanted my stagnation to be seen by the world.”
“It led to more catcalling though. And one of my coworkers asked if I was bisexual now.”
“Rodney.” They both intoned.
“...Will you cut it for me?”
“I haven’t cut your hair in years.” Rachel pointed out, not disagreeing. She wished she could feel her wife’s weight on top of her. She reached up and cupped one of her breasts.
Karen watched this with amusement. “If you do a poor job I will go to the hairdresser’s to have it touched up. The symbolic gesture would mean a lot to me. Enough to be worth the low risk. Finally freed from the shackles of heteronormative femininity through - why are you so interested in my breasts?”
“I haven’t seen them in a long time.”
“I need to become reacquainted with them.” Rachel nodded to herself, running a finger over Karen’s already swelling nipple.
“I missed you.” Karen said softly, smiling down at her wife. Rachel felt her heart skip a beat. She leaned up and Karen leaned down, kissing her. They stayed like that for a while, the two of them melting into one another.
“I love you.” Rachel said.
“I love you as well...This is your shirt.” Karen admitted.
“I knew it.”