Walking along Fifth Avenue on a cool fall evening, it dawned on Laura Peterson she had everything she ever wanted. Her career, her health, the will to believe in better things. And most of all, Bradley Jackson, whose arm was interlocked with hers as they both looked ahead, seeing nothing but daylight, regardless of the setting sun.
I should take your hand
And make you come with me
Away from all this noise and impurity
'Cause I feel like you're too perfect
And I don't mean just on the surface
After a year and a half and two vaccines, the pair finally returned to New York City that morning. Bradley officially moved out of her hotel room and into Laura’s brownstone upon their arrival. It was an easy decision to come to, and not a word had to be spoken to decide it.
“Where to?” asked Sean, Laura’s driver, who met them at the airport.
“Well, our house, of course,” Laura said with a laugh. “Where else?”
He locked eyes with her in the rearview mirror, noticing an unfamiliar, but undeniable sparkle to them. In the 20 years he had been driving Laura wherever she needed to be, sometimes at the most ungodly of hours, she had never once said “our.” It had a ring to it, even to him.
Laura could feel Bradley’s stare, but she couldn’t look over just yet, because if panic was written all over her face, Laura didn’t think she’d be able to survive it. It seemed silly, to think Bradley would object, but both women knew this was an entirely different ballgame than their routine in Montana. The ranch was big enough that they had their own space. Now, there would be no running off to the lake or silent horseback rides when things got hard. No separate bedrooms to toss and turn in when the weight of the other’s words rendered them inconsolable.
But there was no panic on Bradley’s end. She reached over, softly and slowly kissing the back of Laura’s hand before setting it down in her lap.
Laura looked to the window in hopes her glossy eyes would dry over. She was the one who was panicked. She was officially thinking about forever, and there was no turning back now.
I don't know what's going on
Where you came from and why you took so long
All I know is that I feel it
Like it's the realest thing, I mean it
Laura hadn’t thought about how it would feel to see Cory again, knowing what he said to Bradley the night she impulsively left to join Laura on the ranch. His speech had been Bradley’s final straw, and while Laura resented — no, hated — him for it, she couldn’t help but also feel thankful, in a rather twisted sense, about what it turned into.
And sure, she saw him on a Zoom call here and there, but Cory Ellison in the flesh was something else entirely.
Her first day back in the building, three months after their return to the city, commenced earlier than expected when she decided to surprise Bradley during her lunch break by waiting for her in her dressing room. She felt like a teenager, unable to go a few hours without seeing her girlfriend, but she didn't care who knew it.
Laura had been sitting there, reading the paper and soaking in what remained of Bradley's perfume, for roughly 20 minutes when the door handle finally turned, and the blonde, in the most divine red dress Laura had ever seen, finally entered.
“My, my, my what do we have here,” Laura said, raising an eyebrow as she scanned her girlfriend up and down. “It looks even better in person. I actually didn’t know that was possible.”
Bradley’s eyes widened, her smile radiating throughout the room. Laura stood up, holding her arms out, desperately needing to feel the younger woman closer, when she realized someone else was trailing close behind.
“Laura Peterson, always right on time. You know, you’ve always been our hardest worker–”
“Cut the shit, Cory,” Laura said flatly, not a hint of humor in her delivery. “What’s he doing here?” she adds, her eyes darting back and forth between the two of them.
“I-I really don’t know, I had no idea he was even behind me,” Bradley said, joining Laura at her side, trying to reassure her as her hand glided down the brunette’s lower back. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I was going to say this privately with Bradley but I know if I ask you to leave you’ll break my neck, so–”
“Correct,” Laura swiftly responded, sitting down to make it known she wasn’t moving.
“Look, I know you did not leave the city on good terms with me, that obviously goes for both of you, I can see. I just wanted to say I’m sorry, sorry for what I said. That’s it, that’s all I came here to say, I promise.”
You know, he’s really fucking unbelievable. After all of this time, it hasn’t even occurred to him to also, oh, I don’t know, apologize for the moment he chose to say it?! I look great in orange, don’t get me wrong, but –
“Oh, Cory, that was a long time ago, honestly, please don’t worry about it. I’m just happy we are all back and safe!” Bradley says, and to Laura’s dismay, none of it sounded sarcastic.
“Great,” Cory reluctantly replies as he looks over at Laura, still staring into his soul, regardless of her girlfriend’s eagerness to move on with the day. “I should get going, see you back out there, Bradley.”
Laura winces when the door clicks shut, she looks down at her paper, trying to gather her thoughts. Bradley turns around, oblivious to it all. “Gosh, I didn’t know that was still weighing on him so heavily. I mean, it has been almost two years, isn’t that crazy?”
“I should really start going over my scripts,” Laura says, grabbing her bag off the couch and heading toward the door. “You look beautiful, by the way.”
“Th–thank you. I’ll see you at home?”
The door clicks again. This time it’s Bradley closing her eyes.
So is it crazy
For you to tell your friends to go on home?
So we can be here all alone
A few weeks later the two women were cuddled up on the couch in the early afternoon, blankets cocooning them so tightly it nearly sent them back to sleep — until Bradley’s phone went off.
“Ughh, really?” she groaned, lifting herself off of Laura to reach the side table, and if the cool air didn’t wake her up, the caller ID definitely would.
“It’s my mother,” she says softly, looking to Laura like she needed her approval. Bradley hadn’t heard from anyone in her family, including Hal, since she successfully placed him in a rehab facility in New York after finding him in the hospital, beaten but still breathing.
“Honey, I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’ve been doing so well drawing that line, talking about it in therapy, I really don’t see anything good coming out of this.” Laura meant that with sincerity. Each time Bradley's family came back in and out of her life, it shattered another part of the blonde she couldn’t afford to lose. But Bradley had been rebuilding, and while the foundation was stronger than it had ever been, Laura knew it was far from bulletproof.
But Bradley picked up, still close enough for both of them to hear. And Laura waited for it to all fall down.
“Bradley, please don’t hang up. I’m not mad or anything. I just need a couple minutes,” Sandy said.
“I just thought you should know Hal has been doing real good. He’s with me, but he hasn’t used since he got back. He’s never lasted this long, I mean, you know that better than I do I guess. I just, I just wanted to say thank you for taking him and for paying for it. I could never afford a fancy place like that for him, he’s still talking about the food being better than mine,” which made both of them laugh.
“You’re welcome, mama. I’m really happy to hear you’re both doing OK.”
“Yeah, well, you should come visit for a couple weeks sometime soon. It would be nice to have us all together again, don’t you think?”
“Yes, yes, of course. I’ll check my schedule, ok? And I’ll call you?”
Laura looked up at the ceiling, once again unable to identify what was running through her mind, and why it was making her skin crawl. She wanted to run, but Bradley was still practically on top of her.
“Wow…that was…wow. I feel like everyone’s really turning a page this year? It’s weird, but I think I really like it.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Laura snaps. Her tone was unforgiving. She finally put space in between them on the couch, and the hurt on Bradley’s face as she watched her move made her want to bolt. But there was nowhere to go. And she couldn’t take any of it back.
“What is that supposed to mean? Did I do something wrong?”
Laura knew better than to respond in the heat of the moment, but there was a difference between knowing better and wanting to do better. Unfortunately for Bradley, she had no desire for the latter. This had been building up for months, and the dam was finally breaking.
“You seem to be awfully naive lately, it’s a little unbearable to watch if I’m being honest. That’s all.”
“That’s? All?” Bradley asked, straightening her shoulders. “Please, if there’s more, don’t stop for my sake.”
“I just think you’re getting a little too old to be handing out a million chances to people you know damn well will use them to their advantage.”
“You’re talking about my mom, Laura, you do realize that, right? I know more than anyone how bad it has been in the past, but at the end of the day, she and Hal are all I have left.”
“All you have left? Is that so? Look, if you want to leave, go ahead and fucking leave I’m not going to stop you,” Laura stands up from the couch, nearly backing herself into a corner like she’s dodging something tangible, gesturing her arm toward the door. There was not one cell in her body that truly meant that, but she had been left one too many times before, and she needed to say it before Bradley had the chance to think she was caught by surprise.
“Laura, what are you talking about? I never said anything about leaving, I just–”
“You didn’t have to,” Laura lets out a choked sob at her own admission, bowing her head into the palms of her hands. There was something so ugly about her mind automatically jumping to that place, right in front of someone she cared for so deeply, someone who never gave her a reason to go there.
Bradley was standing, but completely frozen, and Laura was relieved, because she’s pretty sure if someone came near her right now she’d combust into thin air.
“And just so we’re clear, it’s not just your mom–”
“Oh, so this is about Cory? Laura, I thought we were past this, you cannot be serious right now–”
“This is about Cory, and by the way thank you for using the word crazy to describe those of us who haven’t exactly moved on from his extremely shitty behavior, but if you want me to start keeping a tab, this is about your mom, this is about Hal, hell, this is about Alex.”
“Alex?! What does Alex have to do with anything?”
“I’m talking about spending the rest of my life watching you forgive everyone but yourself,” her breath hitched, like she had even shocked herself. “You’re always trying to fix everyone, to keep everyone else happy at your own expense, and you’ve never stopped to consider the fact that every time it hurts you, that’s at my expense. That’s my happiness on the line.”
“The rest of your life?” Bradley had a thing for only seeing the best in Laura, in everyone, for that matter. It was no surprise to either of them that was the only line she truly heard.
But Laura didn’t give in. Not only was she angry, she was now mortified by own behavior. She grabbed her coat and walked down the steps, never stopping to look behind.
Maybe we were always meant to meet
Like this was somehow destiny
Bradley didn’t start to panic until two hours had gone by. She didn’t want to crack first, but it would be getting dark soon and Laura’s safety was far more important than her pride.
She called, twice.
She sent a text: Just confirm you’re OK. I’ll take anything.
Another 30 minutes went by.
Bradley thought about Montana, and how if this happened there, she’d know exactly where to go. She’d head to the pond on the trail near their backyard and find Laura sitting in the grass, looking out into the never-ending fields before her. Bradley would sit down next to her and wait for Laura to say something, anything, even if it took hours. They’d always return home side by side, ready to try again.
Then it dawned on her. Laura’s favorite bench in Central Park, right by the water.
But I'll look them in the eye
Tell them you and I will be as one
That’s exactly where she found her. Laura was sitting with her legs crossed, rubbing her hand along her collarbone. Bradley could see from a distance her skin was bright red, one of Laura’s more consistent anxious habits, unlike the outburst they both just endured.
Bradley sat down and Laura nearly jumped until she realized who it was. She didn’t tell her to go, so Bradley stayed. She always did.
“You really scared me,” she whispered, breaking the silence. “Laura, you can be mad at me all you want, but I have to know you’re alright.”
“I’m sorry, I really am,” the way Laura’s voice cracked made it easy to determine she wasn’t referring to the ignored messages. “I guess it has been a while since I’ve been forced to share you.” A slight smile finally forms at the edge of her mouth.
“I just don’t have it in me to be angry with all of these people anymore. I've been angry my whole life,” Bradley replies, watching the group of kids playing with a frisbee to their right, reminding her of the way she’s been trying so desperately to feel. Free, from regrets, grudges, the past. A blank slate. “I wanted to start over when we got back to New York, and I thought you were on the same page when you wanted me to move in. I didn’t mean to call you crazy, I really didn’t.”
“I know, I know,” Laura reassured her by intertwining their fingers. “And I certainly didn’t mean it when I said you're naive. You’re just kind, too kind, you wear your heart on your sleeve and without hesitation. I could learn a thing or two from you, I suppose.”
Bradley rolls her eyes, “Oh right, Laura Peterson needs to learn something from me.”
“No, I’m serious. Really, Bradley. It’s hard for me to watch you open yourself back up because I can’t protect you from what comes next. I can’t shield you from anyone else’s actions — it’s out of my hands at that point. And watching you get hurt by these people, people we both once trusted, maybe even loved, it nearly kills me.”
Bradley puts her head on Laura’s shoulder, knowing she’s not quite finished.
Laura searches for the right words, her thumb caressing Bradley's knuckles, grounding her.
“But it’s also hard because I watch you feel it. All of it. I watch you give it a chance, a million chances, to finally see the other side — a better ending. I never let it get that far. I keep everyone locked in the moment where it all went wrong, in the moment they hurt you, in the moment they hurt me. That’s a dark place to hide. I don’t want to hide anymore.”
Bradley lifts her head and locks eyes with Laura, her hand cusping Laura’s jaw.
“I don’t want you to hide, either, but I don't want to push you. I don't excuse Cory's behavior, that's for him to reckon with. Same for my mom, same for Alex, for Hal. I forgive them for me. But it’s okay to not be ready to move forward. I never want to put your happiness on the line. ”
Laura shook her head, already seeing her words had burned into Bradley’s mind. It was going to take a long time to reverse the damage she had caused in the matter of minutes. But she’d try. She always did.
“My happiness was on the line because I was too afraid to feel it. Because I was already living in the possibility of you walking away with it. You, Bradley Jackson, have never made me unhappy a day in your life.”
They kissed for so long, so passionately, the kids’ parents escorted them to the other side of the park.
Something changed when I saw you
Oh, my eyes can't lie
You said, "They're so damn blue
And I love how you're so forward
Is it too soon to say I'm falling?"
Walking along Fifth Avenue that cool fall evening, it dawned on Laura Peterson she had everything she ever wanted. Her career, her health, and thanks to Bradley Jackson, the will to believe in better things.
“So, the rest of your life, huh?” Bradley says, giddy at the eye roll it instantly provoked from Laura. “That was a really shitty proposal, kinda heart-breaking you think so little of me.”
“Well, you are little, I mean look at yo–”
“Okay, okay, I walked right into that one. You knew what I meant.”
Laura hadn’t forgotten she let that slip. I mean, how could she? She was thinking about forever, and there was no turning back now.
“Believe me, you’ll know when I’m seriously inquiring. And Bradley?”
“Your heart will never be broken by me.”