“Yes, I am back in town. Yeah, of course, I’ll be there.”
Therese abruptly had to leave Chicago a few weeks prior to her actual return. To her delight, the ballet went phenomenally. She had managed to make a lasting impression on the producers and the community in Chicago and was potentially looking at another production there that would take up her entire summer. Unfortunately, her lease had to be renewed and the owners of her apartment had asked her to be in New York to get their papers renewed, Therese thought of not going back and just staying in Chicago, maybe getting an apartment there. She had decided she would go back to New York for two weeks but not renew her lease and go back to Chicago, start a life there. In just a few days shy of a week back in New York, Therese got a call asking her to be a part of the Giselle production happening in spring. Therese was ecstatic. If the Chicago job came through, she would have work all through the first half of the year.
She hung up the phone and went to gather her stuff. The day was bright, the last notes of winter were leaving the air and the onslaught of spring was near. Therese took a taxi to the studio where the appointment was to be held. It was a regular dance studio; a modern looking building though Therese didn’t pay much attention, too focused on getting her appointment done and over with. She walked into the studio and saw familiar surroundings. The big wall to wall mirrors, the railings along it, the wooden panel flooring, the empty steps towards the back where the dancers sat, it all felt comforting to her. She walked towards the middle of the room; there were only two other people in the large room but it didn’t feel empty. One ballerina was sat on the floor with her back to Therese, stretching her legs and lacquering her shoes while the other stood nearby, laughing about something with her. She watched the one standing wave a small goodbye to the other ballerina and walk towards the exit; Therese suddenly felt awkward standing in a room with just one other stranger. The stranger turned, a smile still lingering on her face. Therese could recognise that anywhere.
Her face shot up. Therese saw it alter with surprise and then a soft smile set on her lips. Carol was thinner now, her face seemed softer to Therese. Her eyes were kind in the way that they crinkled at the sides and squinted slightly due to the smile on her lips, in the way that grey reflected the warm light filling the room. Therese noticed that her hands still moved, bending and massaging her feet despite Carol’s attention being somewhere else. She had forgotten that about her. She had forgotten her passion, her kindness. What she had remembered was people’s words about her and she had found them mirroring her own thoughts. Therese felt guilty.
“Therese. I didn’t even know that was you at first.” Therese saw Carol appraise her; it set a dull ache in Therese’s chest.
“God you look amazing. How have you been?”
Therese said nothing. She set her bag down on the floor and sat down a few feet away from Carol.
“Do you hate me, Therese?” Carol asked her.
Therese looked away. She could smell Carol’s perfume faintly. While the sweet, cinnamon smell was familiar, it didn’t elicit the same reaction as before.
“No. How could I hate you?” Therese saw it on Carol’s face; she was going to contest it.
“How’s Rindy?” Therese spoke before Carol could reply. Carol’s eyebrows shot up at the question, her mouth curled into a frown for a bit.
“She’s living with Harge right now. The full custody appeal is still being considered so till we reach an agreement, she lives with him.” Therese looked into grey eyes again. They were proud as ever but wistful as if mourning the loss of something dear.
Those eyes were still beautiful and so was Carol, she thought. Therese looked away.
“Abby tells me you are thriving. You have no idea how proud I am of you” Carol smiled at her, disarming as ever.
“I saw the poster. For Swan Lake.” Therese said. Carol looked at her with a curious expression but didn’t stop her. Therese told her everything, how the poster looked to her, what happened in Chicago, of her nightmares about owls and her dancing, her own voice was flat and uninterested.
But Carol listened; though desperate to help she knew she couldn’t.
“Strange. Horrifying.” Was all she said.
Silence fell upon them, one that was strangely uncomfortable. That was something unfamiliar to Therese on its own.
“You are not here for me are you?” Carol asked though she didn’t look at her.
“No. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” Therese smiled.
She heard Carol laugh then and the room suddenly changed. They weren’t in some bright dance studio anymore. They were back at the practice hall in the old studio, with the piano in the corner and with the darkness of the night outside. Sharing a grapefruit and laughing. Therese suddenly remembered the music box she fixed that was carefully wrapped in wax paper and kept at her apartment. She would’ve given it to Carol as a Christmas gift. Therese thought of how Christmas had come and gone, both of their lives separate from each other in a way Therese would’ve never imagined while fixing that box. Maybe this was what was going to remain of the both of them, old memories and a few stolen laughs. Therese felt the ache in chest deepen, an old longing come back in dull phases. They didn’t talk for the rest of the time they were there. Therese got done with her appointment by lunch just as promised, she came out and Carol wasn’t in the studio anymore. Therese felt a deep sense of loss; she ignored it and went on her way to meet Dannie for a drink.
Therese entered their favourite bar. The same rush of warm air ruffled her hair and then came the great smell of wooden furniture and greasy food, just like before. Therese felt nostalgia wash over her, she felt silly for feeling so since she’d only been away for a few months but there was an odd comforting familiarity in the place that truly brought Therese back to New York. She saw Dannie in a booth on the far side, along the long glass window. As she got closer to the booth, Dannie looked up from his phone. He immediately stood up and embraced Therese.
“Therese! Oh my god! Where have you been?” Therese couldn’t help but feel giddy, meeting Dannie after so long furthered her nostalgia.
“Oh, you know just here and there. How about you? How has the PhD been coming?” Therese took her seat, turning her head to see the specials for today on the chalkboard above the bar.
“Well I have an internship coming up in California this summer, I’m leaving in a few weeks.” Dannie puffed his chest out in mock arrogance, his delight at saying the words evident in his smile.
“Dannie! That’s amazing!” Therese wanted to hug him again but instead settled on grabbing his hands and giving them a squeeze.
“It is. You should come visit me there, stay a little while.” He gave her a bright smile, one Therese knew he used to charm whoever caught his fancy at the bar. Therese knew about Dannie’s feelings toward her. She never reciprocated but Dannie was a good enough guy to never feel bitter about it.
“We’ll see. Maybe not just yet.” Therese gave him a smile back and leant back into the booth. The waiter came by and Therese quickly placed her order.
“Chicago has done you well, you know? It’s like you are a different person now.”
Therese smiled at that. She felt different and it filled her with a sense of pride. She didn’t say anything beyond that. Her food arrived and they went along with their meal, catching up, talking about work, friends.
“Oh, did any mail arrive for me?” Therese took a swing of her beer.
“Shit, I almost forgot. I ran into Carol at your apartment one day. She asked about where you were, she had been there a few times before I guess. She dropped off this letter.” Dannie spoke casually, distracted by rummaging through his bag for the letter. Dannie pushed it towards Therese across the table.
“Do you mind if I go to the ladies room?” Dannie gave her a shrug and Therese rushed out of her seat, shoving her letter in her purse.
She escaped through the service exit in the back; she didn’t know why she was so anxious to read the letter or even why she was reading it in the first place. She couldn’t deny that seeing Carol had shaken her resolve. She had been thinking about her since she saw her. Therese ripped open the letter and unfolded the paper.
You probably think it’s silly of me to write to you but I doubt you’d answer calls or my texts. To be frank, even I don’t know why I am writing to you, maybe putting these thoughts to paper makes them feel more real, more tangible.
I need to explain myself. I left you in the dark and for that I’m sorry. For what all had happened, there was no other option. You were always so proud of us, so proud of who you are and who you
were are to me. You wouldn’t have taken heard the first word of what they had to say for me. Tony said that he wouldn’t have me perpetuating the stereotypes he had fought so hard to destroy. Harge said he wanted a strong figure for his daughter, not some floozy who couldn’t even hold a job. The therapists said things just as well. You would tell me they don’t matter but I’m afraid my darling they do, or so I thought. They have been brought into this world and made to believe that they run it and the times it doesn’t work their way it brings out the worst in them. They talk about what I should and shouldn’t do, my duties, my actions like a report, sometimes they may go on to suggest they would “revisit” this topic 6 months later. I understand they don’t want me to see you. It offends them, I think, that a fairly attractive woman is unavailable to them. Or that she can hold her own in the world. They threaten me with my own daughter and they threaten me with you. So I sank to their level and I behaved, god knows I thought I was protecting you or doing something noble by being the obedient wife so that I could then play the role of the selfless mother. You know I am neither of those things. I tried to gamble but I failed. (I still don’t know how to play uno.)
Therese felt the corners of her mouth turn, deeply contrasted with the furrow in her brow and the churning in her stomach. She remembered fondly the time she had brought uno cards along with her on a practice night. They had given up after an hour of trying to teach Carol how to play and spent the rest of the night laughing and laughing and laughing. She remembered how light her heart felt that night. Therese closed her eyes and breathed in.
I fear I’ve pushed you away. I’ve done the one thing I never dreamed of doing. I’ve hurt you. It kills me to know this but I have. I haven’t been very happy these days my sweet. I hadn’t expected this sadness after the happy days I spent with you. I suspect you’ve found your own and moved on. Abby tells me I shouldn’t send this, because of reasons I already know; that you are young and adore me so but I know you better than she does and I feel you know me better than she does in some ways too. It’s the closeness between our souls that makes it so (or so the poets would say) and I find myself missing the closeness to you. To your soul. I yearn for that closeness, to experience it once again, to cherish it like I stupidly neglected to do once before. Maybe I will never get the chance to but I can dream. You taught me to hope for a better sunrise. Even if I know it’s the same damn sun that will grace the horizon, you taught me to wish upon the same star for something different and better every day. For that I’m grateful. Whoever earns the privilege to stay with you, to revel in your beauty, your intelligence, your compassion is truly lucky. I’m afraid luck never works out for me darling. I’ve messed up before but never this much. I’ve been stupid before but never this much. I’ve been in love before but never this much. I’m sorry Therese. Oh god I love you so much and I am sorry.
Therese stopped reading, feeling out of breath. Breath came in short pants, in time with her fast beating heart. Her eyes immediately fell on the last few lines of the letter.
I hope I find the words one day to tell you how I ache for you. How I need you. How I want you to be with me. But would you darling? Would you stay if I asked you to?
Therese immediately reached for her phone and dialled the number without thinking.
“Hello? Therese?” Carol’s voice was clear.
Therese couldn’t speak; she just stayed on the line and listened to Carol’s breathing, slow and deliberate. She matched their breaths and felt herself calm. She heard familiar sounds behind Carol, the tapping of feet, the sweet music of a distant piano. She knew Carol where was. Therese cut the line and exhaled. She wiped at her eyes and checked her face in her phone screen before going back into the bar.
Therese sat across Dannie for the next half hour. They hugged goodbye on the sidewalk and she found herself conflicted. She knew she could follow Dannie and he would receive her with open arms but to her, Dannie was a blank screen, an end without a beginning, she quickly knew that latter was never an option. He was great company, someone to cherish and hold but he would never be more than that. She thought of Genevieve and that woman at the party in Chicago, she thought how they could’ve meant something more to her and that maybe somebody else like them would come along and maybe they would build something more meaningful than half a conversation and some flirting. The thought felt repulsive to her, she found no appeal in chasing a pavement for the rest of her life hoping to find her destination.
She knew her destination. A future with Carol was uncertain, that she knew. She couldn’t even predict how this night would end let alone a life with her. Being with Carol was a free fall Therese had never expected. It was a leap off a bottomless cliff but nothing had ever felt so liberating, so right. They had changed; the both of them and only time would tell if they had a future together beyond this one evening. Therese wanted to find out where their souls met and how far along they went; she felt a yearning to know where they would stand in the next ten years. Yes, a future with Carol was built on questions but Therese knew that she wanted answers to all of them. She started to run down the sidewalk, shooting her arm out to hail a taxi.
She slipped into the studio without listening to the receptionist’s protest. She made her way past the dressing rooms, doing her usual routine of following the music. She saw Carol practising, to music that Therese had not heard. Therese smiled as she saw Carol now, spinning slowly on one leg, it was to strengthen the arch of her feet; Therese remembered that. When she was done, Carol would kick her feet, take a jump and end with a flourish, Therese remembered that as well and it filled her with a certain excitement.
“Ask me if I will stay.” Therese said.
Then Carol saw Therese, her feet fumbled. Therese watched Carol’s eyes wildly search her face for something, maybe for the context of what she said or maybe for some kind of answer and then suddenly her eyes were exuberant. Carol stopped and set her feet down with a thud. They didn’t move in the moments that followed; both of them standing at two ends of a straight path, would they survive if they collided?
“I love you.” Carol was somehow breathless. Therese’s heart took a leap.
Therese moved forward swiftly and took Carol into her arms. She felt her strong figure melt against her and go slack. She made a conscious effort to hold Carol tighter because she was sure they both would crumble to the floor otherwise. Carol’s hands were in Therese’s hair, burying her head closer into the crook of her neck. Therese heard Carol reverently repeat I miss you into her scalp. Therese pulled back but didn’t let go of Carol.
“Come with me?” Carol found her strength and asked. Therese nodded and Carol let out a short, incredulous laugh as if she was shocked at Therese’s reply.
Carol drove them back. Neither of them spoke, in that moment words were useless. More so there was no time to encompass it all. There was uncertainty, excitement, fear, joy, relief, anger, all these emotions could not be mentioned at once, no amount of time in that small space of Carol’s car would allow them to work through those questions, those feelings. That was for the times to come, the days they had together or didn’t have together.
As they reached her front door, Carol fumbled with her keys and swore softly under her breath. She let Therese in first, Therese took in the stillness of the apartment but she couldn’t bring herself to focus. All she could focus on was the closeness of Carol behind her. She turned and put her hands on Carol’s shoulders. Staring straight into her eyes, she walked them backwards till she felt Carol’s back softly hit the door. Therese leant up and forward and slowly pressed her lips to Carol’s. The kiss was dizzying, the feel of each other after so long let all their pent up desire and longing free, it made Therese feel alive again. Carol’s hands unfroze from her sides and ghosted along Therese’s back. It was a questioning touch and Therese squeezed Carol’s shoulders to tell her to continue. Therese felt Carol’s tongue slide along her bottom lip and then she felt Carol’s long fingers in her hair, her short nails raking against her scalp. Therese tilted her head to the side to take Carol’s tongue into her mouth. The grip in her hair got tighter and she heard a slight moan come from Carol. Therese ripped herself away from Carol then, their ragged breathing filling the still apartment walls. Carol took the hint and immediately grabbed Therese’s hand and led her to the bedroom. Therese watched Carol pull her own shirt over her head, desire burning in her just at the sight of Carol’s skin, her defined muscles moving as she flung the shirt away. Therese came towards Carol and wrapped her arms around her neck, pulling her in for another kiss. This kiss was hungry and hot; Therese lost when her bra was undone and when she was led to sit on the bed in that kiss. She watched Carol take off her own trousers and underwear before come to her and started to undress her. Once naked, Therese laid on her back and Carol kissed her way up from Therese’s ankle to her thigh and then crawled on top her, Therese felt the bed sink against both their weight and the strong feel of Carol’s body against her. Their mouths met again, making the wetness between Therese’s thighs grow. They were hurried and hungry, a clash of spit and teeth. Carol pulled back from Therese’s mouth and dragged the tip of her tongue down Therese’s neck. She sat up and pushed the hair back from her face, pausing to admire Therese’s naked form beneath her. Therese watched her take her in; there was reverence in those eyes that made Therese’s heart full. She saw something change in Carol’s expression and noticed breathing suddenly grow heavier.
Carol then leant back down to trail her lips down Therese’s body. Therese felt her hot breath and the slight touch of her lips start their journey down from the top of her neck, sending shivers down her whole body. She felt Carol press a kiss to her stomach and let out a whimper. Therese felt Carol then press her forehead there. There was a drop of warmth that pooled in the valley of her stomach and slid off her waist to then stain the mattress. Carol stayed like that, with her head pressed against Therese’s stomach and her hot tears mingling with soft skin. Therese heard her whimpering into her skin,
“I’m sorry.. I’m so sorry… oh god forgive me.. please forgive me…”
Her voice was shaky and desperate. It quickly became too much for Therese. She couldn’t imagine Carol, her strong Carol, so broken, begging for someone’s forgiveness, let alone hers. Therese put her hands on the side of Carol’s head and urged her up towards herself.
“Shh… stop.” Therese spoke softly, pulling Carol up her body.
“Please forgive me,” Carol whispered.
Therese then pressed her lips to Carol’s, an assurance. She felt Carol’s hands latch themselves to her wrists as if she was hanging onto them for support.
“You’re trembling.” Therese pulled back to say.
She wrapped her arms and legs around Carol and turned them to their side. She firmly kissed her once more. Carol looked up at her,
“I love you.” Tears came back to Carol’s eyes but this time Therese didn’t let them fall.
Therese kissed her, fully. Sliding her tongue into her mouth. Her hands travelled down between their bodies, stopping to place light lingering touches to Carol’s belly before slipping into warm wetness beyond short blonde curls. Therese stared into Carol’s eyes as she entered her with two fingers,
“I love you. And you cannot leave me like that again.” Therese captured Carol’s mouth once more.
Her fingers found their familiar rhythm once more. Carol arched and gasped as Therese used her thumb with circle Carol’s clit and gather wetness. Therese thrust her tongue deep into Carol’s mouth and rolled her hips along with the steady pace of her hand. Carol’s moans were muffled by Therese’s mouth, only a few moments later Carol came quietly, collapsing into Therese’s arms. They stayed like that, kissing till their lips felt bruised. Kissing for all the time they wanted to but found each other far away, kissing for all the pain it caused them. Even after they stopped, they clung onto each other, wrapped in each other’s arms. They were content to stay like that for a comfortable eternity.