Therese looked around the mostly empty office and sighed. She was bored and wanted to go home and be with Carol. Her latest photos were organized and she had no assignments waiting. She had learned the lesson for organization the hard way. One of her shots had been mislabeled and a very angry councilman had not appreciated being identified as the latest addition to the Bronx Zoo’s baboon family. Al had been apoplectic. She thought she was headed back to Lifestyles or going to be fired but Al knew what he had in her. He knew if any of his guys had her talent and initiative, he would let the mistake slide after a thorough blast furnace of expletives that was known to take years off the lives of his photographers. So, he gave her the full treatment and then dropped it.
Therese had so many hours of comp time she had stopped keeping track. There was nothing stopping her from giving Al a wave and heading out. She was teetering in her decision when Rosie walked up to her desk. Rosie was the only other female in the department. She was their clerk/errand girl. If Betty Boop ever came to life she would have been Rosie…petite, bobbed haircut with a curl on each cheek, pencil thin eyebrows, cupid red pouty lips and a curvaceous body she used to every advantage she could find. She and Therese were an unlikely pair but they had hit it off right from the beginning and were best office pals.
“Are you leaving early? Don’t leave me. What will I do here with just Al and creepy George? I’m no good this afternoon anyway. All I can think about is what all I need to get for Eddie and me’s apartment. I have so much shopping to do and he’s perfectly fine living there with a mattress on the floor and a card table and folding chair but I told him when we’re married I ain’t living like that. I said I ain’t leaving my parents’ house after we’re hitched to move into four bare rooms. I told him I gave up a big church wedding so my folks would give us that money instead to help us get started. I love him but he’s a slug when it comes to the finer things. Could you help me, Therese? I want nice stuff but I can’t spend an arm and a leg. I got me a quandary.”
Therese loved to listen to Rosie. It took her back to her old neighborhood before life took a sad turn and dumped her in an orphanage. Rosie’s ‘quandary’ gave Therese an idea.
“I know a furniture store where we could get some nice pieces for reasonable prices. My flat mate and her friend own it. I might even manage a discount for you. They stock all kinds of furniture at all different prices.”
“Oh, Therese, you’re a peach. Let’s go.”
Abby got a cup of coffee and went to Carol’s office. She leaned on the door frame watching her friend preview next week’s newspaper ad.
“Trouble in paradise?”
“Uninvited snake finally show up in the Garden?”
Carol looked up with frustration and confusion fighting for face space.
“Abby, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you being all out of sorts for the past few weeks. Nothing’s quite right for you. Your morning after glow hasn’t appeared for a while and smiles and humming have disappeared. Everything is fine here, Rindy’s good, so that leaves the little woman. Spill it sister.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Carol, time is catching up with all of us, so I have none to waste on your useless denials. Something is wrong and I want to know what it is.”
Carol’s rigidity began to melt as she slumped into her chair. She reached for a cigarette but didn’t light it. Twisting it in her fingers she sighed and looked up at her best friend with defeated eyes.
“Oh Abby, I’m being so stupid but I can’t stop thinking about our age difference. I keep going over these scenarios when our 14 year gap will become a problem. When I’m 50 she’ll be 36. I’ll be in menopause and sweating out my nightgowns and drying up like a prune while she’s still in her prime. She’ll regret being stuck with the first woman she was with but won’t want to hurt me. I’ll have to give her her freedom and then I’ll be alone.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Carol, I think you’re already in menopause with that crazy thinking. Where is this coming from? That girl, sorry, woman, is so in love with you that I don’t think she knows other women even exist. You’ve been together over a year now and still the heat she gives off when you’re in view is scorching. I’m surprised she doesn’t combust or you don’t with the laser intensity she sends your way. What’s this about, Carol. What’s really going on here?”
Carol finally lit her cigarette and took in a deep drag. She looked out her window for a moment and then turned to Abby.
“I was her first everything. Love. Lover. Woman. Cohabiter or whatever you would call us since there aren’t any labels for couples like us. During this past year I’ve been so happy and proud of how she has blossomed into this incredible person. She’s so talented and that’s being recognized. She’s grown comfortable in her body and beauty. She’s developed her own wardrobe style that suits her so well. She’s become fully Therese and that’s what I want for her but with all these changes will I be what she wants? Will she feel like she’s missed out on ‘dating’ and getting to know other women before settling down. I just don’t know, Abby.”
“Oh, Carol, I’m sorry but I really think you’re…” Just then they both heard the bell over the front door ring.
Therese and Rosie were laughing with their arms slung over each other’s shoulder. Some inside joke was keeping them in tearful stitches until Carol and Abby walked into view. They both straightened up like schoolgirls caught breaking a rule and attempted to appear sober and mature. Abby sensed the tension in Carol and Therese saw it. Carol had uncoiled to her full height and was giving them the full aristocratic posture. Therese knew immediately something was very wrong but did not know what.
“Hi, Therese. Is this your friend Rosie from work that you’ve mentioned?”
“Yes, Abby. Rosie this is Abby and my flat mate, Carol.”
The chill coming off Carol was quickly permeating the foursome. Abby tried to keep the room above freezing with small talk asking what they were doing out running around during work hours. Therese told them her idea about Rosie looking here for furniture while sneaking quick looks in Carol’s direction. Rosie began to wander away to look at pieces that were catching her eye. Abby gave Therese a brief eye roll toward Carol and went to help Rosie.
“Looks like you’re having fun playing hooky from work. Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“You know I have several days’ worth of comp time. It’s not a problem.” Therese dropped her voice and added a touch of wicked to ask, “Is there anything new that’s come in you’d like to show me? In the back?”
“No, I don’t think so. I have work I need to finish up so I’ll see you back at the apartment.”
Therese was slapped by Carol’s coolness. What the frick? The past year had been one wonderful discovery after another. Home. Carol at home. Weekends with Carol. Rindy. All of it had filled Therese’s waiting heart but lately Therese noticed an occasional edge to Carol had started creeping in. There was nothing specific she could point to but something was off. Carol’s display in front of Rosie and rejection of Therese’s flirting shocked her into a realization.
Oh my God, she’s tired of me. She’s realized that I’m not polished enough, or finished enough, or educated and interesting enough. She’s seen all there is to see of me and I’m not enough.
Therese watched Carol walk back to her office and close the door. She knew that since Rosie was here she was walking the tight rope they always did in public. Nothing to see here. Just two good friends out for a nice evening…you know, movie, dinner, whatever. Watching Carol’s back walk away from her lit Therese up with a whoosh like a lightening strike. She doesn’t get to do this again. She doesn’t get to decide for both of us. I am not the girl she left at the Drake with nothing.
Therese yanked open Carol’s door. Carol’s shock was replaced with worry when she saw Therese.
“What was that out there?”
“What was what?”
“That ‘I’m busy’. That dismissal like I’m the hired help and not your…well whatever I am.”
Carol was stumbling in her mind trying to figure out how to handle Therese’s anger and not have a scene here at work.
“Therese, you know we need to be careful in public.”
“I don’t think that’s it. I think something else is going on. I think…I think you’re getting tired of me.”
Carol was completely and utterly stunned. Her mouth opened but no words came out. She watched as Therese’s anger began to drain out of her and sadness began to wilt her stance. Carol had to get to her. She had to hold her as tight as possible. She couldn’t let her slip away from her in this haze of confusion. Carol walked around her desk and wrapped Therese up.
“Oh, darling, I’ve been such an idiot. I thought you were tiring of me.”
Therese jerked her head up. “What? How could you think that? Don’t you see how I embarrass myself all the time with how crazy I am for you?”
“I know, I know. You’ve given me no reason to doubt. It’s been all me. I’ve…well I got to thinking too much about our age difference and about how little experience you’ve had outside of me and that you might, someday, regret me being the only one.”
“I see. You thought I’d regret waking up with a different woman and a hangover every weekend like Abby instead of curling into the love of my life every night of the world and knowing I would wake up every morning to her. Carol, my only regret is that I didn’t find you sooner so we could have more time together.”
“Well, when you put it like that…I think I’m going to let Abby finish up with your friend Rosie so you and I can go home. How does that sound?”
Before Therese could answer Abby knocked on the door and poked her head in.
“Don’t want to interrupt but I’m trying to work out some pricing for Rosie and I need your agreement.”
Rosie stuck her head in and saw Carol and Therese’s embrace. Before they could pull apart and start coming up with excuses she crowed, “I knew it. Ha, I knew it. I got a cousin, Angela, and she’s got her a special gal. I can pick up on these things. Therese, I was so worried you were lonely and going to be all alone when I had my Eddie. So, you and Carol. That’s great. Now about those discounts.”