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A Different Life

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Laura awakens early Sunday morning with Bill spooning her, his arm gripped tightly around her waist, the warm breath of his soft snore in the curve of her neck.  The warmth from his chest on her naked back envelopes her, comforts her, makes her feel all is right in the colonies.  She could stay like this forever, naked in his bed, snuggled up together, intertwined with one another.  Her hand strokes his forearm, and he instinctively pulls her closer to him, even in his sleep he doesn’t want to let her go.  This is what love feels like.  It’s not just the physical closeness, but the desire to be together, to exist together, to be there for each other, to breathe the air together.

She wiggles her body further into him, the slight jostling waking him enough to place a soft kiss to her shoulder.  Her hum of approval earns her more kisses as he nuzzles her hair and nips at her ear lobe. 

“Do we have to get up?” she purrs, melting under his attention.

“Not for a while.  But we do have certain responsibilities later,” he murmurs.

Those same responsibilities that seemed insurmountable just a week ago suddenly seem trivial.  She’s not even that upset with the family therapist anymore and any bad feelings she had toward Sandra were resolved at dinner the previous night.  It was one week ago that she inexplicably broke up with Bill, left her home, and went to Jean who promptly kicked her ass into place.  It feels like forever ago.  But now everything is so right, so clear to her, and her life has purpose again.  She’s determined to finish her doctorate and get into the workforce, determined to continue to mend and grow relationships with her family members, and determined to be with the man she loves.  Where would I be if Bill hadn’t come back from his freighter assignment?

“Hold me, Bill.”  A simple request but one that has so much meaning to her.  In his arms she finds strength – it has always been inside of her, but his love has coaxed it out of her.  I can do anything with you beside me.

“Are you okay, my love?” he whispers.

“Mmmh, yes.  I love feeling your arms around me.”

He pulls her closer, the softness of her skin presses against him, the scent of her arouses him. 

“Make love to me, just like this,” she requests, guiding his hand under her thigh to lift it over his hip.  Her head turns to meet his gaze, a soft hand is placed to his cheek, her eyes radiate love for him.  They spend the better part of the next hour lost in each other conveying their feelings through actions - unspoken ways of declaring their love for one another.  Afterwards as the lay tangled together in bliss, Laura’s mind drifts to her previous lovers for a few seconds, just long enough for her to decide how unfair it is to compare them to what she has now with Bill.

Their cuddling finally ends when both decide it’s time for breakfast, and after a quick meal of a shared omelet on the single plate in Bill’s abode, they decide to shower, then shop for kitchen items and groceries before lunch.  Bill defers to Laura when it comes to shopping for the kitchen items having never lived anywhere but his parents’ house or on a ship.  He’s more than happy to let her run the show picking out plates, silverware, cups, drinking glasses, linens, pots and pans, and several other cooking items. 

“Thank you, Laura.  I wouldn’t have thought of half of this stuff,” he admits.

“Well, it’s a good thing I’m here then, right?” she replies with a giggle and a peck on his cheek.  “Do you have a grocery list?”

Bill gives her a somewhat embarrassed look.  “No, I was hoping you would have some ideas for that, too.  I’ve never really had to cook for myself.  Omelets are about all I know how to make.”

They spend an hour in the grocery store walking down every aisle, discussing what Bill likes to eat and what Laura can easily teach him to cook by himself.  Her plan is to add a new item or two to his cooking repertoire each week until he is comfortable in the kitchen and has a wide array of meals he can make by himself.  She insists that he avoid restaurants as much as possible, pointing out that is a great way to blow money unnecessarily, plus it usually isn’t as healthy as buying your own food and preparing it.  Besides, restaurants are for special occasions, like their first date at JJ’s, or their reunification at the café across the street. 

“Am I being too bossy, Bill?” Laura asks when he lightly nods his head at her insistence to avoid restaurants.

“No, I like the idea of putting that money into savings rather than blowing it on restaurants and take out every night.  And it will be that much more special when we go out to a restaurant together.  I appreciate your help with getting me set up with furniture and groceries, making this feel like a home instead of just a place I’m renting.  As far as being bossy, I think your take-charge attitude is sexy as hell.”

Her eyes light up at his declaration, an amused expression spreads across her face.  “I’ll remember that the next time we’re in bed,” she says in a playful whisper.

**

Laura arrives early for family therapy at her father’s house at the request of Jenny, who decides to speak with her about getting off on the wrong foot the week before.  Laura discovers that her therapist, Dr. Weigel, was on the top of the list of therapists that Jenny had sent to Dave the previous Sunday.

“I guess I picked a good one then, didn’t I?” Laura asks surprised.

“In my own personal opinion, he’s the best.  I saw him myself when I was your age and he helped me get over an extremely toxic relationship with a man I had been involved with for a few years.”

“Was his name Richard?” Laura deadpans.

“No,” Jenny laughs.  “Dylan.  It’s sad to think we both fell for guys that are so similar.  That’s part of the reason I asked you about your relationship with Bill.  I want women to have healthy relationships, so it’s my way of checking.”

“Oh - I misinterpreted what was going on.  Richard was toxic.  Bill…Bill is not Richard in any way.  But I almost blew it with him because of what I went through with Richard.”  Laura proceeds to give Jenny a summary of her week, most of which she was already aware of due to the phone call she received the previous Monday from Dave.  And when Dave called her again on Thursday about Sandra’s behavior, she really began to wonder if the family she was convinced could be helped when they first met had bigger problems than she initially recognized.

“You seem to be in a better place this week,” Jenny comments.

“I am.  I hate to say it, but it helped to get out of this house.  I hid from my problems here, it was too easy to do that.  Now I’m sharing an apartment with a good friend, starting to work on my dissertation again, figuring things out with my therapist, and I’m completely in love with Bill and it doesn’t scare the hell out of me to admit that.  It feels so right.”

“Good!  I’m glad you came early to speak with me.  I’m ready to bring in Sandra and Dave unless you have something else you’d like to add.”

“No, I’m ready.  Let’s get started!”

**

While the rest of the family speaks with Jenny about some of the grittier details of the week, details not appropriate for a 3-year-old’s ears, Cheryl meets in the living room with Jason.  He presents her with a three-dimensional puzzle in the shape of a cube and tells her that he wants her to try and solve it but not to be disappointed if she can’t.  Its main purpose is for him to assess how she problem solves and deals with challenges so that he can figure out a good starting point for evaluating her intelligence.  He sets the puzzle on the coffee table in front of her, then excuses himself to the kitchen to remove two bottles of water from the refrigerator before they begin.  He returns just seconds later to discover Cheryl has already assembled the base of the puzzle and is quietly working on the rest.  After a few minutes, she pops the final piece into place, grabs the water bottle, and takes a long drink.

“That was boring,” she remarks.

“Have you done this puzzle before?” he asks, astonished with the speed and skill she displayed in building the cube.

“No.  Are we done?”

“I have another puzzle, but it’s really hard.  It’s for older kids, but if you’d like to try, I can let you play with it.”

“Mmmm, okay,” she says shrugging her shoulders.

“This one is a sphere and has a lot more pieces to it.  It’s kind of tricky so if you get too frustrated, let me know and we can stop.”

Cheryl looks at him with her big green eyes and nods her head.  “Okay.”

He shows her the completed puzzle for reference, then proceeds to lay out the pieces in front of her in no particular order.  Once all the pieces are on the table, Cheryl glances at the finished puzzle, then down at the disassembled pieces, and back again.  She begins to sort them into several piles with her little hands, sometimes turning them over and rubbing her fingers on them before depositing them into a particular group.  When all the pieces have been sorted, she begins to fit a few together.  The trick to this puzzle is that it has to be solved from the inside out, unlike the cube puzzle.  Most children fail to realize this and give up after several minutes, even children that the puzzle was designed for, ages 8-12.

Most children aren’t Cheryl.  She diligently works the puzzle, sometimes moving pieces into a different group after fitting a few together, and once she has the nucleus built, she quickly snaps the remaining pieces around it, completing the puzzle correctly in approximately 12 minutes.  Once she finishes, she takes another long drink of water, pushing the completed puzzle toward Jason.

“Did you think that was hard?” he asks.

“It was harder than the first one, but still kind of easy.”

Jason looks at her in awe.  He’s never had a child of any age successfully complete it in under 20 minutes until now, and she didn’t get frustrated while working on it.  “I think you are an incredible little girl, Cheryl.”

“Thank you.”

**

Family therapy goes well, including a heartfelt apology from Sandra to her father for the way she treated him during the week.  Cheryl is content to sit on Laura’s lap, seemingly satisfied by her interaction with Jason during the first half of the session.  After such a tumultuous week, it is a surprisingly lowkey family session, and Jenny advises Sandra to pace herself with her schoolwork and find hobbies around the house to keep herself busy and out of trouble.  After excusing everyone except Dave, Jason gives an update on his session with Cheryl.

“Dave, Cheryl is brilliant.  She is extremely gifted – I don’t need an IQ test to tell me that.  Are you aware of how intelligent she is?” he asks.

“I know she’s bright, but I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed anything that would make me pause and think that she’s extraordinary.  Why?  What happened earlier?”

Jason explains about the two puzzles and how Cheryl solved them with ease, focusing on the task until it was complete.  “I have no doubt of her spatial abilities so next week I’d like to explore verbal ability and comprehension, with your permission, of course.”

“Sure, go ahead.  I think her vocabulary is pretty good when she isn’t growling like a bear.”

“She was much more comfortable with me today, so if next week goes well, I’d like to administer the IQ test the week after that.  I know that’s way ahead of what we planned, but I’m concerned if we wait, she will grow bored with our sessions and could become less cooperative.”

“I want her to go to a good school, especially after seeing how bored Sandra is at regular school.  In fact, I want to send Sandra somewhere else this fall, somewhere more challenging, so if either of you have any recommendations, please share them with me.  She doesn’t know about that yet, but we will cross that bridge when we need to,” Dave informs them.

“Does Cheryl talk about her mother at all?” Jason asks. 

“I know she told Laurie that she misses her mother.  And last night in the middle of the night she crawled into bed with me, crying, and told me she missed her mommy.  But normally she doesn’t do that.”

“That’s something we need to keep an eye on.  She’s young, but she’s intelligent enough that she will have memories of her mother and feelings that she may not fully realize or understand.  Her coping skills aren’t mature enough to deal with these things - she may check out from time to time.”

“You mean like pretending she’s a bear?  She did that again this week the day after we found out about Sandra’s fake dating profile.”

“I’m glad you told me.  Please keep track of when she does things like that and what is happening in the household.  Also, would you mind if I spoke with her daycare?  I’d like to gather their observations of her behavior.”

“I’ll sign a release before you leave.”