The return to New York came quicker than Clarke had expected. Wednesday was as snippet of what life could be like: waking up together, showering together, breakfast by the pool, walks down the beach, making love at every opportunity. Clarke wanted that life. At the very least, she wanted more days of uninterrupted Lexa time. But Thursday rolled around, and there were meetings Lexa had to go to and phone calls she had to answer and the day slipped quickly by until they were on a plane, headed east.
A lot had happened in four days, and Clarke was still processing the events of the week. Lexa had come out to her family, which only made Clarke think about doing the same with her own. The thought filled her with dread. It was impossible to be brave when you already knew the outcome. It felt like a ticking timebomb. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Boom. There went her family; lost in a blur of tears and anger and Bible quotes from David. She could live a lie and keep them happy, or she could tell the truth and lose their love. Was there a right answer? Or did it all boil down to choosing the option she could live with.
She would tell them. Some day. Eventually. Maybe. No, right away. She would write them a letter. She would call them on the phone. She would drop by in person. It didn’t matter. She could already see her mother’s face, stricken with shame and pain and disappointment.
She turned away from the airplane window and looked at Lexa. Lexa looked up from her book and something in her eyes tore through Clarke’s soul. She felt unworthy, sitting there beside Lexa. She felt ashamed of her own cowardice. Lexa grew up bearing the weight of her mother’s death, her father’s guilt and her grandmother’s fading health, all the while facing the pressure of a career in the limelight. Now she had the fear of losing her career and everything she’d worked towards. And still she’d come out to her family, answering cruelty with poise and even laughter. “How do you do it?” she asked.
Lexa closed the book. “Do what?”
“How are you so brave?”
“Brave? Me?” Lexa started to laugh but saw that Clarke was serious. “I’m not brave, I’m just impulsive. Like you throwing wine in Janet’s face.”
“Wait, you threw wine in someone’s face?” Raven had suddenly appeared within earshot. She plopped down in the seat across from Clarke.
“Who threw wine in someone’s face?” Anya asked, taking the seat beside Raven.
“Who’s Janet?” Raven asked.
“Clarke threw wine in Janet’s face?” Bellamy walked over.
“Will someone tell me who Janet is?”
“Lexa’s stepmother,” Anya answered.
“Holy fuck. Seriously?”
“Why was I not there to see this?” Bellamy asked. “You’re now, officially, my hero.” He bowed before Clarke.
“Wait, tell us everything,” Anya said. “Start at the beginning.”
“What’s going on down here?” Monty asked.
“Clarke threw wine in Lexa’s stepmother’s face,” Raven said.
“Let her tell the story.”
They all stared expectantly at Clarke.
Startled by the sudden attention, Clarke looked to Lexa for assistance but her girlfriend was too busy looking amused to be of much help. Clarke cleared her throat. She didn’t want to go into the full details of what Janet had said. The thought still infuriated her and made her want to travel through time and punch her in the face. But, she could give them an abridged version of the truth. “Um, well, we ran into Lexa’s dad and stepmom at the restaurant…”
All day, Lexa had been dreading the thought of parting ways with Clarke. She’d grown used to being around her all day. She’d grown used to falling asleep with Clarke in her arms and waking up beside her. The thought of going back to her empty apartment made Lexa want to cry.
They dropped Monty off first. Then Bellamy and Anya. Raven entertained them with stories of their wild adventures in Los Angeles, which Lexa would have enjoyed more had she not been getting progressively more depressed by the thought of saying goodbye.
It wasn’t long before they drove up to Clarke’s apartment and Raven jumped out first to give them some privacy.
There were a lot of things on the tip of Lexa’s tongue. A lot of things she would have said if she’d known exactly how to express them.
“This is stupid,” Clarke said.
“Sitting here trying to figure out how to say good night.” Clarke looked at her. “Would you sleep here? With me? I mean, you already have your bags with you. And the studio is a much shorter ride from here.”
Lexa had been on the verge of asking Clarke to come back to her apartment. The alternative had never occurred to her. “Really?”
“I mean, my apartment is a nightmare—“
“I don’t care about your apartment.” She didn’t like the way that sounded, so she tried again, “I mean, it doesn’t matter how big or small or cramped it is. I would be happy with you anywhere.”
“So, then… yes?”
“Yes,” Lexa said, and smiled, relief flowing through her.
“Let’s go then.”
To Lexa, Clarke’s apartment was fascinating. It was small and nothing in it was new or shiny or bright. The furniture didn’t match, although it didn’t clash, either. The walls were covered in artwork; some framed and others taped or nailed or tacked. There were cracks on the ceiling. A window in the living room looked broken. But standing there, Lexa felt as if she’d wandered into a special place. Unlike the places she’d grown up, the apartment was inviting; cozy. It was filled with something intangible; like hope.
Lexa wondered what this life might have been like for her; if she’d been a poor actress trying to make it in the world. She’d never had that experience: living paycheck to paycheck, choosing needs and desires based on what she could and could not afford. She didn’t know what it was like to live life trying to climb upwards rather than keep from falling down.
“It must seem dreary,” Raven said, leaning against the doorway to her room.
Lexa wondered how long she’d been standing there. Clarke had gone to shower and the sound of running water echoed loudly in the small space. It reminded Lexa of standing near a waterfall. “What must?”
“I was thinking quite the opposite, actually,” Lexa replied. “I was thinking it’s very homey.”
Raven laughed. “Yes, homey. Code for downtrodden.” She walked over and leaned against the back of the couch. “Life is so weird, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” Lexa wasn’t inclined to disagree but she wanted to know what Raven’s thoughts were on the subject.
“A few months ago, Clarke was wandering around like an emotional zombie and I was working my ass off at a coffee shop barely making rent, and now Clarke is floating on air and I’m in a movie. With you.”
Lexa smiled. A few months ago she was walking around like an emotional zombie, too, but she didn’t say that. All of that felt like a lifetime ago.
“Did you have anything to do with that, by the way?”
“With me getting a part in the movie,” Raven said.
“Oh,” she said, and knew she was stalling. The answer was somewhere in the middle of yes and no, but she didn’t know how to explain it. “I don’t really have any say in final casting choices. You got cast because you’re really good. But I did recommend you for the part.” Remembering what the part entailed, she added, “I mean, I asked Costia if there was a part for you. I didn’t … you know … I didn’t mean to say that I requested you specifically for that role.”
“Aww, I just made Lexa Woods blush. This is such a dear diary moment.” Raven smiled. “Anyway, thank you. And that’s a general, all-inclusive thank you because I don’t do mushy talk very well.”
“You’re welcome, in a general, all-inclusive way.”
The water stopped and the apartment fell into silence.
“You make her really happy,” Raven said, glancing at the bathroom door.
“I thought you didn’t do mushy talk?”
“I know, fuck. But it’s just I see you guys together and you’re so cute and in love and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and nauseated. And anyway, I just wanted to say that I approve and that you have my blessing to court her. But if you hurt her I’ll kill you. I didn’t kill Finn because he’s not worth going to prison for, but you, definitely.”
“I can’t tell if that’s flattering or disturbing.”
“Flattering,” Raven said. “For sure.”
“I have something for you,” Lexa said once they were alone.
“What’s the occasion?” Clarke asked, both surprised and curious. She sat up on the bed and watched as Lexa withdrew a box from one of her bags.
“No occasion,” Lexa said as she sat across from Clarke and held out the box to her. “I just want you to have it.”
Clarke accepted the jewelry box, curious and a bit confused. Inside, she found a golden bracelet. It was beautiful, but she didn’t understand why Lexa was giving it to her.
“It was the last Christmas present my grandmother gave me.”
“Oh,” Clarke said because there were no good words to answer with. She stared down at the bracelet. She’d never seen Lexa wear it. She was about to say that she couldn’t take it, because her first instinct was to give it back and say it was not something she’d feel right keeping. But Lexa was giving it to her for a reason and she wanted to understand. So, she took the bracelet out of the box and held it in her hands. The inscription caught the light. Action is the antidote to despair.
“You want to know why I never told her I was gay?”
Clarke glanced up and said, “I figured it was because you didn’t know how she’d take it.”
Lexa smiled. “No, it was because I knew how she’d take it,” she said. “I knew she’d tell me to embrace it and be proud and be out and I didn’t know how to explain to her that I was terrified it would ruin my acting career. I knew she’d think my priorities were skewed. She didn’t want me to get lost in the fame or the acting or the Hollywood life and I couldn’t tell her that I wanted to be lost in it because it was the only thing I’d have left after she was gone.”
There was, in Lexa’s voice, such a mixture of love and anguish that it made Clarke’s heart ache.
“You think that I’m brave because my family life is a movie of the week and I somehow managed to turn out okay, but if it weren’t for my grandmother, I have no idea where I’d be right now. She packed me full of wisdom and love and armed me with self-confidence. And I hated who I became after she died because I was cold and distant and withdrawn and pretty much everything she taught me not to be. And then I met you and it all came back to me, slowly, granted, but here we are.”
Here we are.
“I wanted you to have that,” Lexa continued, “because even though you don’t get to meet her, my grandmother was a very strong and wise woman and the source of all that bravery I supposedly have. And I hope that maybe she can be that for you, too. Wherever she is.”
Clarke’s eyes blurred and she wiped them with her hand.
“Are you crying?”
“No,” Clarke lied. “My eyes just have an allergic reaction to unexpected gestures full of love and thoughtfulness.”
Lexa smiled at that. “I can buy you anything you want, but I wanted to give you something that meant a lot to me.”
“I love it.”
“Good, I was worried you’d think I had ulterior motives.”
Clarke had been staring at the inscription on the bracelet, but Lexa’s words caught her attention. “What ulterior motives?” The answer came in the form of a long, lingering kiss. Lexa’s lips were soft and she tasted of spearmint. “You don’t have to try so hard to get into my pants,” Clarke said, and smiled. “As it turns out, I’m pretty easy.”
“Who said anything about your pants? I was thinking more along the lines of your toilet paper collection.”
“Oh, no,” Clarke said, shaking her head. “You’re never getting your hands on my toilet paper squares.”
Clarke put the bracelet back in the box and placed it gently on the nightstand. Then she kissed Lexa again and pulled her closer. “You can get your hands on my body, though.”
“I suppose that’s a reasonable compromise.”
Clarke woke to an empty apartment. On the bathroom mirror she found a Post-It note that said, I didn’t want to wake you. Call me when you get a chance. I love you. PS: I miss you already. And underneath, in Raven’s unmistakable handwriting, the words: I’m off to have on-screen sex with your girlfriend. I love you, also. PS: Please keep the nauseating cuteness to a minimum. There are other people on this Post-It.
Back in her room, Clarke sat on the bed and listened to the sounds drifting in through the walls of the apartment building. The upstairs neighbor was playing a strange, unrecognizable instrument, or perhaps he was playing a familiar instrument in an unrecognizable way.
The bracelet Lexa had given her was still in the box and Clarke took it out. She wondered what Lexa’s grandmother had been trying to say with that inscription. Was there something specific she’d wanted Lexa to do? Or had she simply wanted Lexa to take charge of her life and be happy? It was simple advice. The execution was much harder.
Without Lexa around to distract her, Clarke found her thoughts wandering back to the events of the week. More and more, she thought about the question Lexa had asked her, Do you forgive your father? She still didn’t know. It was hard to forgive someone you didn’t talk to.
She played around with the bracelet. What would Lexa’s grandmother do? She didn’t know the answer to that, either. Perhaps a better question was whether or not Clarke wanted a relationship with her father.
Did she want him in her life? Did he want to be in hers? What would he think of her dating Lexa? She’d never wondered. She didn’t know where he stood on matters of sexual preference.
Maybe that was a good place to start.
She put the bracelet away and dug her laptop out of her suitcase. While it powered up she thought about what she would say. Something short. Something simple. Something true.
I’m sorry I didn’t write back to you sooner. Or maybe I’m not sorry. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things lately. I don’t know if I’m still really angry at you or if I’m angry out of habit. And I don’t know to what degree I can ever forgive you or even if it’s wrong to still be so upset over something that happened years ago. I don’t know.
But I know that I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately about our relationship and about how I feel about you which must mean something. So I thought I’d take a step toward open communication and tell you something important.
I’m in love. And now that I understand what love is and how it can take your life and flip it upside down and take it in directions you never expected, I think I can see why you did what you did. I can see, too, how love can put you in a position where you might hurt people without wanting to, and that not every situation has a magical solution or even a correct answer.
Dad, I’m in love with a girl. And I intend to be in love with her for as long as she’ll have me so I hope you’re okay with having a gay daughter because I know mom and David won’t be and it would be really nice to have at least one parent who supports me.
Anyway. I hope to hear back from you.
Lexa made her way through Central Park, following the directions Clarke had texted her and making several wrong turns before eventually finding her way to the small rustic bridge Clarke had indicated. She found Clarke near a small stream, standing before a canvas and easel. The sight filled her with inexpressible joy.
“You came,” Clarke said.
“Several times, if I recall correctly.” Lexa kissed Clarke’s cheek in greeting and handed her the cup of coffee she’d picked up along the way. “For you.”
“And to think I only loved you for your body,” Clarke said. “But you’re also quite useful as a delivery girl.”
“You say the sweetest things.” Lexa stood there quietly for a few seconds. She didn’t know where they were exactly but she didn’t mind. They were alone. If it weren’t for the buildings peeking out from the top of the trees she’d have sworn they weren’t in New York anymore. “It’s so peaceful here.”
“It’s one of my favorite spots. Not a lot of people come here. I was going to tell you to meet me at Bow Bridge but I thought you might like this.”
“I do,” Lexa said. “I feel like I’ve seen nothing of New York.”
“That’s because you haven’t,” Clarke answered. “But we can change that.”
Lexa liked the promise of that. “So, it seems my father’s filing for divorce.”
“I had a voice mail message from him and he was all apologetic about what happened at dinner and he said he’d been thinking of leaving Janet for a long time but that her comment to me was the final straw. And that he’d like to go to lunch or something when he comes back from ... wherever he’s headed.”
“How do you feel about it?”
Her feelings ranged from confusion to disbelief and back again. She didn’t know if there was an emotion that encapsulated all of that. She stared at the water flowing under the bridge and said, “No idea.” That was as close as she could come to an honest answer.
She sat down on a nearby rock and looked up at the trees and thought about how beautiful this must all look in full, springtime bloom. There was a chill in the air but it didn’t bother her. “So what are you working on?”
Clarke turned the easel so Lexa could see. The canvas was covered in alternating shades of blue. “It’s not done yet,” she said. “But I think I’ll call it Girl Comes Out to Her Dad via Email.”
“You came out to your dad? What did he say?” Lexa was surprised. She hadn’t expected Clarke to come out to anyone, let alone her father.
“I don’t know yet.” Clarke shrugged and sat down next to her. “It almost doesn’t matter what he says. It helped just to write it. It felt nice to say something honest to him for a change.”
“I can understand that.” And she did. Despite the nightmare that was the dinner with her father, she regretted nothing of what she’d told him. She looked at Clarke’s painting again. Something about it made her smile. “You still owe me a mural.”
“I was thinking I could just do a naked portrait of you. Floor-to-ceiling.”
“Mmm,” Lexa said, knowing, or at least hoping, that Clarke was joking. “Would I have to pose for you?”
“Preferably. Not that I haven’t committed your entire body to memory by now, but it doesn’t hurt to be thorough.”
“I think I’d prefer a naked portrait of you.”
“Are you painting it?”
“Maybe. Are you posing?”
“Sure. With the way you draw, I’ll come out looking like a giant turtle anyway.”
Clarke laughed and hugged Lexa to her. She kissed the top of her head. “How about, I paint something else, but you still pose naked while I do it?”
Lexa grinned and rested her head on Clarke’s shoulder. She felt Clarke tense as a group of people passed by, but Lexa only moved closer and after a second, she felt Clarke relax. They sat quietly for a long time, enjoying each other’s warmth.
“It’s going to get dark soon,” Lexa said, staring up the sky.
“What shall we do next?”
Lexa thought about the evening ahead and all the days that were still to come, and where once she’d seen a succession of empty, lifeless days, she now saw the pleasure of endless possibilities. She took Clarke’s hand, and said, “Anything we want.”