Chapter 1: Prologue & Chapter One
Rusty stared down at a speck of ink on his jeans. When had he done that? If it was a while ago it probably wouldn’t come out in the wash; it was probably a set in stain. He rubbed at it with his thumb and was only semi-surprised to see that that hadn’t wiped it away.
Sharon watched Rusty in her periphery. He was fidgeting and she wanted to tell him that it was fine and that he should stop worrying but the U.S. Marshal seated silently across from them kept her from saying anything. She was careful not to drum her fingers in boredom in case it would cause Rusty more anxiety.
The Marshal shifted in his seat and checked his watch. Sometimes Sharon really disliked Assistant Chief Taylor. Times like now where he’s undoubtedly trying to send the message that his time was more valuable than theirs.
The door swung open and all three of the room’s occupants turned expectantly to the late-to-a-meeting-in-his-own-office bureaucrat. “Sorry I’m late.” He shrugged, walking further into the room and trailed by Brenda Leigh Johnson.
Sharon’s eyebrows went up in surprise but she didn’t say anything.
“Quite alright.” Marshal Tucker nodded, gesturing to the couch for Brenda to take a seat.
Brenda sat down next to Sharon. “Hello Captain.” She said softly.
Sharon smiled a little. “Chief.”
Marshal Tucker cleared his throat. “Chief Johnson has been added to the program last minute because, until yesterday, we were not made aware that she was also receiving threatening letters.” He pulled out five copies of the file folder from his briefcase. “Because of the short notice, this may not be ideal.”
“What do you mean?” Sharon furrowed her brow.
“Well, with the two of you going together.” He nodded to Brenda and Sharon, “the most plausible way to send you is to send you as a couple.”
“Excuse me?” Brenda blinked.
He cleared his throat again, “we’ve set you up as a married couple in Vermont.”
“Married?!” Brenda cried as Sharon balked, “Vermont?!”
“As I said it’s already been set up.” He handed dossiers to Brenda, Sharon and Rusty. “We’ll go over the rest of the details on the plane.”
Brenda opened her folder. “You named me Georgia!”
Sharon let out a laugh and stifled it as soon as Brenda shot her a glare.
“Your stories were adapted from an already established family unit: George and Rose Murray.”
“Why can’t she be Georgia?” Brenda grumbled, shutting the dossier with a scowl.
“This…” Rusty said slowly, looking over the façade of the house. “Is not a horrible house…”
“Yeah, it’s kind of cute.” Brenda agreed as Sharon pushed the door open and pulled in her rolling suitcase behind her.
Sharon flipped on the lights, “furniture’s tacky, but…”
“What’s wrong with the furniture?” Brenda furrowed her brow.
“I’m going to find my room.” Rusty announced as he disappeared down the hallway.
Sharon left her suitcase in the living room and proceeding into the kitchen. “They gave you a stupid name but they left you a present.” Sharon walked back out with a bottle of Merlot.
“My favorite brand and everything!” Brenda grinned as Sharon handed her the bottle. “Can I pour you a glass?”
“Why not?” Sharon leaned on the kitchen island.
Brenda checked a couple of cabinets before locating wine glasses and poured one for Sharon and slid it across the island to her. Sharon sipped it. Merlot was heavier than she usually went for but Brenda had good taste in brands apparently.
Brenda took a big sip and smiled contentedly. Sharon let her Brenda a few more sips before she said, “so, Georgie girl.”
Brenda smirked. “I still can’t believe that. They say it wasn’t on purpose, but I have my suspicions.” Sharon stifled a laugh and Brenda nodded, “yeah, laugh it up. You’re just lucky Northern California isn’t a name.”
Sharon laughed as Rusty reemerged from claiming his bedroom. “What’s funny?”
“Just something Brenda said.”
“So, is there food or just wine?” He asked as he stepped past the two women and opened the refrigerator. He perused the contents for a moment, “looks like just the bare essentials. I can probably make something.”
“We got a couple hundred dollars in cash for groceries, we can go tomorrow morning.”
“Okay.” He nodded, “so, my room just has, like, a bed and, like, generic high schooler things. Could we pick up some things?”
“It does look a little stock footage-y in here.” Sharon agreed. “Why don’t we go out tomorrow and pick up some things?”
“You mean as a family?” Brenda furrowed her brow.
There was a knock on the door and Brenda and Sharon exchanged confused looks. Sharon straightened up, “remember, Georgia,” she pointed at Brenda and then at herself, “Rose and Holden.”
“I still hate my name.”
“Spoken like a true teenager.” Sharon winked.
Sharon opened the door and a couple – who Sharon would put in their fifties – smiled at her from the porch. “Hi, we’re the Marshalls, we live next door. I’m Sarah and this is Pete.
“We’ve been seeing your things being moved in and when we finally saw you guys, we thought we’d come by and introduce ourselves.”
“That’s very nice of you.” Sharon smiled, already feeling like she was acting. “I’m Rose, this is Georgia and Holden.”
“As bribery for barging in on you on your first day we brought cold cuts.”
Sharon laughed, “you certainly read his mind. Please, come in.” Sharon stepped aside and the Marshalls entered, shaking hands with each of the three as Sharon took the platter and set it on the kitchen island. “And we just opened a bottle of Merlot, if you’d like a glass.”
“You read my mind.” Sarah grinned.
Rusty held back from making his sandwich until the adults started. Sharon patted his back and he gave her a quick half smile before piling a roast beef sandwich high with fixings.
Sharon led everyone to living room and they all sat down. Rusty leaned against the couch noncommittally, unsure as to whether the adults’ conversation would be too boring and wanting to be able to make a quick exit if need be.
“So where did you guys move from?” Pete asked.
Brenda started to answer and faltered for a moment before supplying, “we were in Washington.” Brenda felt like kicking herself, all those years in the CIA lying about her identity should have prepared her for this exact situation. Pete and Sarah and Sharon continued talking about states and moving and Brenda zoned out momentarily. Brenda wasn’t exactly in ideal circumstances – witness protection notwithstanding.
“How long have the two of you been married?”
“We’ve been together for about ten years and we got married in California the first time they legalized same sex marriage.” Sharon supplied easily. Brenda was impressed; Sharon was good at pretending. Brenda put her hand on Sharon’s knee since she didn’t feel she had anything to add to the conversation.
“Is it weird for me to ask which one of you is Holden’s biological mother?”
“Pete!” Sarah scolded.
“No, it’s okay.” Sharon insisted. Ordinarily she’d be annoyed by being asked so many personal questions but the Marshalls were providing her with an excellent opportunity to practice the details she’d spent a six hour plane ride drilling into her brain.
“What, you can’t tell?” Rusty asked, leaning his face against Sharon’s. “People are always telling us how much we look alike.”
Brenda and Sharon froze for a moment. The dossiers had Brenda listed as his mother but Sharon smiled. Despite it being contrary to their pre-established stories, she had secretly been displeased by that decision and was glad that Rusty felt the need to fix the injustice as well.
“I can definitely see it; that’s what I thought.” Pete nodded.
Sharon patted his cheek.
“Can I go explore the neighborhood.” Rusty asked.
Sharon looked at her watch but it was still set to pacific standard time. “Don’t go too far okay? And don’t be gone too long.”
“I wouldn’t worry, the neighborhood is really safe and there are lots of good kids around here. He’ll make friends in a hurry.” Sarah assured.
“I hope so,” Sharon nodded, “he tends to be a loner and I feel bad that he’s been pulled away from what he knows.”
Brenda put her hand on Sharon’s knee. “He’ll be fine.”
Sharon looked over at Brenda with a little surprise but Sarah drew her attention back. “I’m the same way, Rose, but really, there’s a great group of kids around here and the school is really good, they have a lot of programs.”
Sharon nodded, “I’m sure.”
Brenda stuck her plate in the sink and then turned off the kitchen light as she walked back out into the living room. Sharon glanced at the sink and then at Brenda but was unsurprised when she didn’t pick up on it.
“Well, there goes day one.” Brenda made a dramatic show of checking her nonexistent watch. “How much longer are we here?”
Sharon gave a little shrug. She was just as unhappy – if not more so – with their current arrangement but felt that she should probably be the only one who wasn’t actively disparaging the situation.
“So, uh, I poked around. There’s just the master bedroom. What do you…”
“There’s a couch in my office. I’ll sleep on it for now.”
“Alright. Well, I’m off to bed.”
Sharon waited until she heard the door close behind Brenda to hold one of the decorative pillows against her chest and laid her head on the armrest. When she awoke some time later she felt her neck muscles tightening painfully and she groaned as she sat up.
Her suitcase was still in the master bedroom and she slipped into room. Brenda was sound asleep, pink eye mask askew on her face, her lips parted and letting out soft noises that weren’t quite snores.
Sharon slowly unzipped her bag, avoiding making too much noise. She took her toiletries bag into the en suite bathroom and closed the door. She laid out her things: toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, Just seeing her own things here already made her feel a bit more at ease. By the time she’d finished brushing her teeth and removing her makeup her neck had relaxed some.
Sharon approached the bed and gingerly eased a pillow away from Brenda. Brenda stretched and clutched her remaining pillow tighter. “What’s up?” She murmured.
“Just getting a pillow.” Sharon said softly, laying a hand on Brenda’s shoulder. “Go back to sleep.”
Brenda turned over and promptly fell back to sleep, prompting Sharon to wonder why she’d felt compelled to touch her just then. It was one thing when Brenda had touched her knee that afternoon – it was part of their cover, they were playing parts.
On her way out she picked up her suitcase and tiptoed to her office.
“Sharon?” Rusty asked softly, giving her shoulder a gentle shake.
Sharon sat up on the couch, knocking the pillow over. She was sore all over. She rubbed her eyes, “morning.”
“I put on some coffee and I can make you an omelet.”
“I would love that.” She smiled gratefully.
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Brenda looked at the piece of paper in her hand and then back up at the classroom door and then used the key to let herself in. She’d spent two interminable hours at orientation and was looking forward to the hour to herself before she had to teach.
She sat down at the desk with her class schedule and a Hershey bar. She took a large bite as she perused. She had two sections of introductory Russian, those classes met five days a week for an hour and a half each with a half hour break between for prep time and then another prep period and back to back intermediate Russian, also an hour and a half each but only Monday through Thursday so she’d at least get out early on Fridays.
Brenda just took her second big bite of chocolate when there was a knock on the doorframe and a tall middle-aged woman stepped in. She had dark hair pulled back in a messy bun, round glasses and a long baggy beige cardigan over a white tank top and dark indigo skinny jeans; her ensemble was completed with riding boots and a chunky necklace.
Brenda felt uncharacteristically self-conscious about her florals.
“I wanted to come in and introduce myself. I’m Jill Johnson, I teach advanced and literature.”
Brenda nodded, “Georgia Murray.”
“And you haven’t taught before?”
“No, first time teaching – I got so many workbooks and handouts and books that I don’t think I could possibly screw it up.”
“Yeah, they have a tendency to micromanage around here when it comes to syllabus and standardization. Anyway, give a shout if you have any questions.”
“Just one actually,” Brenda said, drawing Jill’s attention back. “Is there a vending machine around here?”
“Um, vending machine? No… I don’t think so but the dining hall is just across the quad.”
“Thanks.” Brenda sat back in her chair. Maybe she’d stop by the grocery store on the way home and stock up on bulk candy. How many months away was Halloween…?
“Hey, wait up!”
Rusty didn’t realize that the blonde was speaking to him until she appeared at his side. “Me?”
“I’m Penny, I’m senior class president and I wanted to say hi.”
“Hi. I’m Holden.”
“Which lunch do you have?”
Rusty consulted the schedule he was holding. “Um, B.”
“That’s the good one.” She smiled. “Anyway, welcome.”
Rusty watched her walk away for a moment before he went back to trying to find his homeroom. Mercifully he was only a couple rooms away from it. He just wanted to find his classes and put his head down. Enrolling in high school was hard enough the first time around and having to do it twice just seemed like a cruel joke.
“Hey, you’re Holden?”
Rusty furrowed his brow and looked up at the broad shouldered jersey-clad boy who’d just turned his seat around.
“Yeah.” Rusty said slowly, with skepticism.
“I’m Zach. Jenny says you got two moms, right?”
Rusty leaned back in his chair a bit, a tiny bit further away from the jock. “Yeah.”
“Cool, you should join GSA.”
“What’s GSA?” He shook his head.
“Gay Straight Alliance.”
Rusty shrugged, “I still don’t really know what that is…”
“It’s, like, a club, for LGBT kids and allies. You’ve never heard of it? It’s a pretty common thing.”
Rusty shrugged again, “I went to a Catholic school before this, so…”
“Your lesbian moms sent you to a Catholic school?” Zach laughed. “Well, it’s cool, you should check it out.”
“And this is your office.” Susan flipped on the light and she and Sharon stepped in.
“No, it’s not,” Susan laughed, “not at the moment. It’s plain and lifeless. Don’t think that just because you’re here on a year-long project that you shouldn’t decorate. Make this space your own.”
“Come in, Julia. This is Rose, she’s going to be the lead editor for the book.”
“Nice to meet you and great timing. You can be the first to try this Argentinian Malbec.” Julia held the bottle in one hand and two glasses in the other.
“Oh, thank you.” Sharon accepted one of the glasses and Julia handed the other to Susan. Julia poured in about two sips worth of the heavy red into Sharon’s glass.
Sharon swirled it in the glass, holding it close and inhaling the aroma – she’d been to enough wine tastings to know how to do it properly – before taking the first sip. “That’s amazing.” Sharon chuckled.
Julia sipped from her glass, “mmm!” She agreed, “you can really taste the blackberry. How much did they send? A case?”
“Rose, you should take a bottle home with you. We get so much wine and after we do a tasting and we decide which wines to do pieces on for the issue the article’s author gets at least one bottle and then it’s open season on the rest. Sometimes there’ll be a very popular one that everyone wants but we’ve got a room that’s just full of extra wine.”
“Yeah, we break into the stash for office parties and whatever.” Julia added.
“Oh, brilliant thought! I’m going to track down one of those reusable bags with the sections for bottles and send you home with a selection of wines we’ve featured as a welcome aboard.”
“That’s really generous.” Sharon insisted.
Susan waved it off. “What are your favorites?”
“I love Chardonnay and dry Rieslings and… my wife loves Merlot.”
Susan grinned, “alright, it’ll be the Malbec, a Chardonnay, a Riesling, a Merlot and two surprises.”
When Sharon entered the house Brenda was sitting on the couch with a book. She pulled off her glasses and cocked her head. “What’s all that?”
Sharon set the box down on the table and carried the bag into the kitchen. “The box has back issues of the magazine to familiarize myself with the style.”
“Homework on your first day. I didn’t even give out homework today.” Brenda teased.
“And the bag has wine in it.”
“Now, that’s my kind of homework.” Brenda laid the book open side down on the coffee table and entered the kitchen to inspect the offerings.
“There’s a Merlot in there for you.”
Brenda pulled out a couple of bottles before she located her target. “I love your job.”
“I think it’ll be fun.” Sharon shrugged, “it’s low stress which could be good or bad for me but I think I’m going to like it and apparently we get wine a lot and we can take them home.”
“And you won’t hear any complaints from me.”
“Speaking of hearing or not hearing things, where’s Rusty?”
“In his room.” Brenda retrieved the corkscrew from the drawer started in on the Merlot.
Sharon walked up the hallway and knocked on Rusty’s door. “Yeah?” He called from inside and she pushed the door open. “Oh, you’re home. How was your first day?”
“It went well. How about you? Do the classes seem like they’ll provide you with enough challenge?”
“I already have a ton of homework.”
“On the first day? Brenda didn’t even give out homework today.”
“I know.” He smirked. “She mentioned.”
“I’m going to make something for dinner and I’ll come get you when it’s ready.”
Rusty walked through the darkened house and saw the backyard light on. He stuck his head out, "Sharon?"
Sharon jumped, extinguishing her cigarette quickly and exhaling the smoke with a cough. "Sorry..." she apologized, embarrassed.
"I didn't know you smoked..."
"I don't. Not since 1983. Except when I'm really stressed out."
"I'm stressed out too. Couldn't sleep." Rusty paused. "Can I have one?"
Sharon scoffed. "Of course not." She scoffed again. "I shouldn't even be having them... but you know what I will do? Let's make cookies."
"It's one in the morning..."
"Are you saying you wouldn't eat cookies?"
"And if we're both up anyway..."
Rusty smiled, "okay, you convinced me."
Sharon pulled out all the ingredients and the recipe and delegated tasks to Rusty. They worked in silence until Rusty poured the chocolate chips into the batter. "You know, I always wanted to be someone else but now that I am I just want to be me."
"This is only temporary. And you're still you."
“What’s going on? I thought school was going well?”
Rusty shrugged, “yeah, it is… I don’t know. The people are cool, I’ve got a couple friends already, they’re pretty cool. But, like, they’re themselves and I’m not me.”
“You’re still you.” Sharon laughed. “You can still have your own personality, you just… have to give a fake name and a fake backstory… I see your point.”
“Isn’t the fact that you were basically a single mother who totally crushed it and made the streets of L.A. safe a big part of who you are?”
“I don’t really talk about those things though.” Sharon shrugged, “they definitely have shaped me but I don’t tell everyone I meet about my whole life. Do you want walnuts in the cookies?"
Rusty pulled a face. "Ew, no."
"Suit yourself." Sharon smiled. She scooped out half the batter. "You want to scoop out the rest? I'm going to put nuts in these."
"Sure." Rusty spooned out cookie dough balls onto the parchment paper. “But it’s basically lying.”
“Why don’t we go over the details of our stories again and pick the parts that seem the least like lies and focus on those?”
“It’s just, I can’t even talk about Washington because I’ve never been there.”
“It’s very rainy and Frasier was set there.”
“Oh, honey, I love you anyway.”
“Thanks?” Rusty chuckled.
“Well, we’re going to make new memories here. Maybe join some clubs?”
“I actually did have an invitation to join GSA.”
“That’s what I said. It’s the Gay Straight Alliance.”
“That sounds good, what do they do?”
“I don’t really know exactly. I’m picturing kids sitting around in a circle and talking about how cool different sexual orientations are and they have snacks.”
Sharon laughed, “sounds like fun.”
“And there’s this football player… he’s the one who suggested I join, actually.”
Sharon nudged Rusty.
He flushed in embarrassment, “shut up.” He scuffed his foot, “no, but he suggested I join because of you and Brenda, he might not have been hitting on me.”
“Yeah but you just put out feelers and play it by ear. Maybe he wasn’t flirting with you but maybe he was. I mean, have you never used a pretense to avoid being vulnerable but wanting to talk to them anyway?”
Sharon stuck the baking sheet into the oven and set the timer. "Want to find something on television while we wait?" Sharon asked once she set the timer.
No sooner had they turned on the late late show with Craig Ferguson than Brenda padded down the hall. "What's that heavenly smell?"
"Cookies." Rusty grinned.
"They'll be ready in about ten minutes." Sharon said patting the couch next to her, "come. Sit."
Brenda sat down next to Sharon and tucked her legs up under her. Brenda yawned and leaned her head against Sharon’s shoulder.
Sharon looked down, “if you’re tired why don’t you go back to bed.”
Brenda closed her eyes and murmured, “I want some cookies while they’re hot.”
Rusty took a slice of pizza from the box and a cup of lemonade and sat down next to Zach but avoided looking at him directly.
“So, what exactly do we do here?” Rusty sipped his lemonade.
“Mostly address issues in the school as it impacts gender and sexuality.” Jenny explained. “Right now we want to get started on making the homecoming dance more lgbt inclusive and making waves about the dress code that doesn’t allow boys to wear skirts or dresses.”
“Should we split in half and brainstorm on one or the other?” Zach asked.
“Okay, let’s do that.” Jenny nodded, “I’ll take this half of the room on the dress code if you want to get started with the dance?”
“Def.” Zach turned to Rusty, “what were the dances like at your old school?”
“Um, I don’t know, repressed?” Rusty shrugged and the rest of their group laughed. “I never actually went to one.”
“You’ve never been to a dance?” One of the girls blinked at him and Rusty looked around the half circle at the gallery of faces in various stages of surprise.
He shrugged, “nope.”
“But you’re gonna go to homecoming, right?”
“Maybe.” Rusty looked down at the pizza on his plate. “I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Well, we’ll help make it cool and we can go together.”
Rusty brought the lemonade to his lips. He didn’t want to grin or blush and he silently begged his body not to betray his feelings.
“Yeah, sounds cool.”
Brenda was seated on the couch with her grade book and a couple stacks of papers splayed out around her like a mosaic when Sharon let herself into the house. Brenda glanced up but looked back down to her task at hand.
Rusty had been reading at the kitchen table and he set the book down and turned to Sharon. “Need help with anything?”
“No, it’s just a couple bottles of wine.” She set the two bottles on the counter. “Hey Georgie Girl, I got a new Merlot from work today.”
“Stop calling me that.” Brenda scolded playfully, tearing herself away from her grading and joining Sharon in the kitchen.
“So, not to put too fine a point on it, but I thought it was your night to make dinner?” Sharon hinted with an innocent bat of her eyelashes.
“Oh ye of little faith.” Brenda stuck the corkscrew into the wine. “A veritable feast is en route from the Orient Pearl as we speak.”
The cork made that satisfying pop as it was pulled from the bottle. “Do you want some?”
Sharon pushed her wine glass a little closer, “not too much, red wine makes me sleepy.”
“Perfect, thanks.” Sharon took a sip.
Brenda poured a glass for herself and took a big gulp before replacing what she’d just drunk and stuck the cork back in.
“So how’s work?” Brenda asked, taking a more reserved sip of her wine.
“It’s good, I just keep finishing things too quickly.”
“Yeah, I always hate when I finish with things early.”
“It’s just that I finish one task before the other people on the book are ready with more content.” Sharon shrugged, “I’m on contract for the year so at least they can’t pay me less for it taking fewer hours than they’d allotted for it. I’m just too good at paperwork.”
“You’re welcome to grade these tests for me.”
“I don’t speak Russian.”
“Ugh. That’s right.” Brenda heaved a feigned sigh.
“You don’t like teaching?”
“Not especially.” Brenda sipped her wine again. “But I think I’ve struck the right balance of being intimidating and helpful. They’re afraid to disappoint me but they ask questions when they need to.”
“That sounds awful.” Rusty chimed from the table.
“Oh, I don’t know. That’s sort of how I ran Internal Affairs.”
The doorbell rang and Sharon moved to answer it but Brenda waved her off. She paid the delivery girl and presented the take-out triumphantly.
Sharon shut out the light on her desk and slipped under the blanket on the couch and closed her eyes, praying that sleep would come mercifully quickly this evening. Sharon wrapped the blanket tighter around her shoulders only to uncover her feet.
Sharon sighed and tried to catch the end of the blanket with her toes but quickly became frustrated and kicked out and her foot collided with the side of the oak bookcase.
“Oh, son of a….” She grumbled, drawing her leg close and reaching for her throbbing toes.
She threw the blanket to the floor in exasperation and grabbed her pillow. She eased the door to the master bedroom open and then closed it just as gently. Her eyes took just a few moments to adjust to the darkness and could see the sleeping mound that was Brenda Leigh.
Sharon put a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “Scooch over.” Sharon whispered.
“Mm, what’s happening?” Brenda murmured as she complied.
“I can’t sleep on the couch anymore.” Sharon admitted, placing her pillow down and climbing under the covers. “I’m stiff all over and I can’t stretch out my legs.”
“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“I don’t like to complain.”
“You’re stupid.” Brenda rolled over onto her stomach, one arm coming out to lay across Sharon’s stomach.
Sharon’s pulse quickened as she spared a glance at the exhausted blonde. Sharon was sure that it was muscle memory or that in her sleep stage Brenda mistook Sharon for the husband she’d left back in L.A.
Sharon closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. It had been so long since she’d shared a bed with another person and she wasn’t used to having to contend with physical contact. Jackson had been a covers hog and inevitably ended up wrapping himself up in the sheets and blankets and in her sleep Sharon usually ended up pressing against the Jackson burrito for warmth but they hardly ever made skin-to-skin contact while sleeping.
Sharon could feel the warmth radiating from Brenda’s petite body. She swallowed, her mouth had gone dry and once again she prayed that sleep would come quickly.
Sharon awoke with a start when she heard the toothbrush cup clatter to the bathroom floor. She realized that she must have fallen asleep because it was suddenly morning, although she didn’t feel like she’d slept.
Brenda hadn’t shut the bathroom door all the way and through the one inch crack Sharon saw a sliver of Brenda bend to pick up the cup and then disappear again. Sharon turned over on her side and cuddled into the middle of the bed. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off yet. Ordinarily she’d have gotten up but she needed all the sleep she could get at this point.
She squeezed her eyes shut but instead of falling back asleep she just drifted in a half-conscious haze. Each sound from the bathroom resonated in her brain even as she tried to shut it out. The faucet turned on and then the shower started up. Just the thought of the hot steam in the shower was beginning to lull Sharon back to sleep when there was a knock on the door.
“Sharon… are you in there?”
“What’s up, Rusty?” She mumbled into the pillow.
“Your phone alarm’s been going off in your office for the last twenty minutes.”
“I forgot my phone!” Sharon cursed, shooting up. She pulled open the bedroom door and Rusty startled. “Sorry, Rusty. Thank you for waking me. Is there coffee?”
“Yeah, I put on a full pot.”
“I appreciate it and I’ll make it up to you.” She gave him a quick hug and beelined for her office.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“The couch is killing my back, I couldn’t sleep another second on it.”
“No, I just mean…” He shrugged helplessly, “are you okay?”
She smiled appreciatively at him. She put her hands on his shoulders and gave them a reassuring squeeze. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’m great.”
He smiled back and decided to accept that answer for now and gave her an acknowledging nod and she disappeared into the office and closed the door. Maybe she was having a bad morning, maybe she was still adjusting, maybe any number of things but whatever else she was, she was not great. She wasn’t the Sharon that smiled so big it made his face hurt just looking at her or the Sharon that hummed while she made her breakfast.
For the moment, though, he decided he wasn’t going to push for any big confessions. He’d keep an eye on her mood and stage an intervention at a later date if it seemed one was in order. She hadn’t pressured him – too much – when he’d first come to live with her and he’d give her the same courtesy.
Brenda emerged from the room. “Oh good, you’re up.”
“And there’s coffee.”
“Perfect.” She tussled his hair as she passed and he shot her back a look as he smoothed his hair down.
Brenda seemed to have an uncanny knack for alternating between being like a step-mother and an annoying older brother. He sighed and resumed his morning routine.
“I have another box of submissions, where do you want them?” Julia asked from Sharon’s doorway.
“You can set them here on the desk.” Sharon shifted her coffee cup out of the way. “This morning’s are by the door.”
“You did them all already?” Julia furrowed her brow.
“Checked, double checked and triple checked.” Sharon confirmed.
“You’re really fast at this.” Julia leafed through the first submission on the top. “And meticulous.”
“I was going to go to law school. Nothing prepares you for being nitpicky like double majoring in pre-law and linguistics.” Sharon shrugged.
“But you didn’t end up going to law school? What happened?”
“What usually happens: life.”
Julia nodded, “very wise indeed.” She looked around Sharon’s still sparse office. “You want to take lunch together today and maybe we could go to TJ Maxx or something and get some things for your office? Brighten it up a little in here?”
Sharon looked around embarrassingly. “I haven’t really had time to get anything.”
“Well, considering this was supposed to be today’s work,” she laid her hands on the finished stack and then pointed at the new box, “and that’s tomorrow’s I’d say you have a bit of time.”
“I guess I do.” Sharon nodded.
“If you’re anything like me you have a bunch of photos of your family but never get around to getting frames.” Julia laughed and Sharon laughed along with her. Sharon filled her home with reminders of her loved ones but never had she decorated an office with personal touches, save for a plant or two. Perhaps it was because she’d been a cop her entire adult life and having an office full of knick knacks and baby pictures hardly made her look tough.
Being copy editor at a wine magazine wasn’t exactly the sort of job for which she needed to maintain her icy, ballbuster façade.
“I’d love to go to TJ Maxx.”
“A couple of people made it clear that they think it’s weird I don’t have any pictures in my office.”
“My office is basically a closet.” Brenda laughed, “no one ever even comes to office hours.”
“I get a lot of traffic through my office. Dropping things off, picking things up, bringing me wine.” Sharon winked at Brenda.
“Do you think anyone would notice if we switched jobs?”
“At my job maybe not, but my complete inability to speak Russian would probably tip some people off at the college.”
Brenda shrugged, “not the intro kids.”
Sharon laughed and Brenda cracked a smile. “Well, I was thinking what if we found something fun to do this weekend and double it as a photo opportunity.”
“Like what?” Brenda asked with a furrowed brow.
“I don’t know. Rusty, is there anything you’d like to do?”
Rusty shrugged, “I don’t know, is there anything to do in Vermont?”
Sharon laughed, “alright, what if we just go into Burlington for the day on Saturday?”
“I’m off to bed.” Rusty announced as he got up off the couch. He wrapped Sharon up in a big hug on his way out and she gave him a smile. He smiled back; it was nice to see her smile.
Brenda looked at her phone. “I should probably get to bed too.”
“Okay.” Sharon nodded. “I’m going to finish watching the news. I’ll be back in my office tonight, don’t worry.”
Brenda shook her head, “that’s silly. The bed is big enough for the two of us. You should just move your stuff into the bedroom. We’re going to be here for a year you can’t sleep on a couch for a year.”
Sharon thought about this proposition for a moment before she nodded, “okay, I’ll be in in about a half hour.”
Brenda nodded and disappeared down the hallway. Sharon tried to concentrate on the news but her thoughts were down the hall. The night before had been one thing: she’d been exhausted and frustrated and she’d needed to make a change. Tonight was another thing altogether; this was premeditated. She was going to get into bed with Brenda Leigh Johnson, they both knew it was going to happen and they were both fine with it.
At some point Sharon registered that the credits rolled on the news and she switched the television off. She picked up her bag from the office and carried it into the master bedroom. Brenda turned toward her and asked with a yawn, “good news?”
“Oh yeah, everything’s coming up roses.”
Brenda grinned, “everything’s coming up Rose?”
“That’s right, Georgie Girl.”
Brenda snorted but said nothing. Sharon closed the bathroom door behind her and Brenda smiled – she was actually starting to not mind the nickname. When she’d first met Sharon she knew that Sharon looked down on her – her accent, her clothes and her down home mannerisms. Maybe it was all in her head; maybe she just saw the strong, well put together, eloquent and commanding L.A. gentlewoman and felt inadequate. Georgie Girl had seemed like a jab at her roots, a reminder that she didn’t fit in… but now it sounded like a term of endearment and it was really starting to grow on her.
Sharon’s phone alarm chirped and she reached forward for it but was stopped by Brenda’s arm tightening around her every time she tried. “Release.” Sharon whispered.
“Five more minutes.” Brenda whined, burying her face in Sharon’s hair.
“You can have as many minutes as you want but I have to get up, please.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s early. I want to go for a run.”
Brenda snorted but still hadn’t released the brunette. “Why?”
“…exercise?” Sharon slipped her thumbs underneath Brenda’s arm and pushed until Brenda released with a sigh and turned over onto her side.
Sharon was, at no point, under the impression that Brenda would be a morning person and she shook her head with a little smile as she slipped out of bed. Her open suitcase was set next to the bureau – she’d take over a couple of drawers that evening after work.
Sharon stepped out onto the back porch and inhaled the fresh air. There certainly was less smog here even if the air was chillier. She ran to the end of the subdivision and back, not wanting to overdo it after being out of practice. When she opened the door Rusty was already in the kitchen.
“Where were you?”
“I just went for a run.”
“In your pyjamas?” He furrowed his brow.
She laughed, “I know they’re pyjama shorts but I don’t have any workout clothes; I have to go get some.”
“I didn’t know you run.”
“I used to do it religiously. But it’s been years now…” She poured herself a glass of water and drank half of it down. “I figure I have time now and a predictable schedule.”
“Is it an alone thing or could I go running with you maybe?”
Sharon smiled, “that would be wonderful, I’d love that.”
“What about Brenda?”
“I don’t think Brenda’s going to come running with us.” Sharon chuckled. “She didn’t even want to let me do it this morning when I tried to get out of bed.”
“So, you’re doing the one bed thing then?”
“There’s only the one bed. It’s not comfortable to sleep on the couch. We’re going to be here for an entire year and I’d rather not spend the entire next year at the chiropractor.”
“Don’t get defensive.”
“Okay.” Rusty studied her face for a moment before announcing “I’ll make coffee.”
Brenda emerged from the bedroom in jeans and t-shirt and clapped her hands together. “So what do cutesy well-adjusted families do?”
Sharon and Rusty looked at each other. “Are you asking us?” Sharon laughed.
“Point taken. But you got the closest. What’s a nice thing to do as a family?”
“There’s probably a nice park and we could take a picnic.”
“I like the park idea but what if we got takeout instead of sandwiches?” Brenda grinned hopefully.
“Okay, I’m flexible.”
Rusty interjected quickly, “anything but Chinese; she gets us Chinese all the time. How about pizza?”
“How about subs? Pizza might be too awkward for a picnic – plus I wouldn’t want to get grease on the blanket.”
“There’s a spare blanket in the closet, can you grab it?”
“On it.” Rusty trotted down the hallway.
Sharon looked through the cupboard and grabbed out some fruit cups and a bag of sweet potato chips. She looked over to see Brenda uncorking a bottle of Merlot.
“You can’t drink in a public park.”
“I’m going to put it in my Nalgene. It’s completely opaque, no one will know.”
“I’ll know.” Sharon laughed.
“What are you going to do? Arrest me?”
Sharon laughed and shook her head, “you’re incorrigible.”
“One of us has to keep things interesting around here.”
“This is nice.” Sharon said, looking around the park.
“A bit anti-climactic.” Brenda shrugged.
Sharon chuckled, “we’re the city rats, you’re the country girl, how do you not appreciate all this nature?”
“Probably because my entire childhood all I wanted to do was get out of the country.” Brenda shrugged, “I love being in cities.”
“You don’t dress like it.” Rusty teased. Brenda playfully slapped him in the arm.
“So, can we get on with this photoshoot so we can get back into the city? Walk around, look for some nice restaurants or wine bars?”
“Okay, okay.” Sharon pulled the camera out of her purse. “Get closer and I’ll take a couple of you two.”
Rusty and Brenda obliged and Sharon snapped a few. “Want to try looking like you’re having some fun?”
Brenda shifted closer and they leaned their heads in and Brenda stealthily gave Rusty bunny ears. Sharon smiled and took a few more pictures. Brenda held her hand out for the camera and Sharon moved to sit next to Rusty. She put her arm around him and pulled him close. He smiled, leaning his head against hers.
After a few pictures Rusty took the camera off Brenda and stood up. “So, your turn now. Do something couple-y.”
Brenda got up off the blanket and held her hand out for Sharon. “Darling.” She drawled.
“Much obliged,” Sharon took Brenda’s hand and stood.
“That was a terrible imitation of my accent.” Brenda grinned.
“I was going for Scarlet O’Hara.”
“Oh, then you definitely missed the mark.”
“Why don’t you put an arm around her?”
“Which one of us?” Sharon questioned.
“Either. Or both.” Rusty shrugged.
Brenda snaked an arm around Sharon’s waist and squeezed her closer. Sharon put an arm around Brenda’s shoulders and leaned her head against the blonde’s.
Sharon stifled a yawn. “I’m going to go to bed.”
Brenda looked at her phone, “it’s only nine.”
“I know but we had a full day. I’m ready to sleep.” Sharon hung up her purse in the hall closet.
“Okay, I’m going to watch the news before bed.”
“That’s fine. I’ll probably be asleep when you come to bed anyway.” Sharon turned to Rusty. “Want to go with me tomorrow to get some pictures printed?”
“Sure.” He nodded.
She smiled, “have a good night.”
“Thanks, you too.”
Sharon retreated into the bedroom and shut the door behind her. It was a rare night that she went to bed before Brenda did and for a moment she felt like she was back home at her own apartment in her own space.
She stripped out of her clothes and changed into a nightgown, brushed her teeth and then got into bed. She indulged herself in spreading out her limbs and taking up more than half of the bed. She’d had a lot of fun with Brenda and Rusty, the picnic was fun and then they spent quite a while walking around the city before having dinner at a Mexican restaurant.
Sharon had been worried that Brenda’s previous feelings toward her would color how she treated her but to her surprise she genuinely enjoyed spending time with the former Deputy Chief. As they day went on their conversation was easier and more pleasant with each passing minute. Maybe this would be a tolerable detour from her life; maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Sharon awoke with a start as the blanket was yanked off of her and the cold air hit her skin – her skin which was covered in a thin sheen of sweat. She glanced at Brenda and realized with no small amount of panic that she’d been having a wet dream.
And wet she was.
Hadn’t she left things like that behind in her youth? Brenda mumbled something to Sharon that she couldn’t make out but made her remember with startling clarity that Brenda had featured prominently in her dream.
Sharon slid out of bed and padded to the bathroom. She closed the door and flipped on the light; she squinted in the light until her eyes adjusted and her reflection came into focus. “Get a hold of yourself, Sharon.” She whispered.
She turned on the tap, letting the cold water run. She cupped her hands under the stream and splashed it on her face. “Keep it together.”
“It’s okay, go back to sleep.”
“Nothing. I’m just getting some water.”
There was a long silence; Sharon held her breath. “Okay.”
Sharon let out her breath and splashed another handful of water on her face. She had to calm down sufficiently before she got back into bed and her heart was still racing. Clearly, it was just a knee jerk reaction to sharing a bed with someone again after all these years and if it wasn’t Brenda it could’ve been anybody – but it was still unsettling.
She grabbed the hand towel from next to the sink and patted her face dry and then brought her gaze up to the mirror again. Her cheeks were still flushed and a brief, indulgent thought back to the dream reminded her that she was still wet with a jolt of arousal.
It was going to be a long night.
“Hey, sleepyhead.” Brenda touched Sharon’s forehead with the warm coffee mug.
Sharon frowned and stretched. “Why are you waking me?”
“Because it’s noon.” Brenda sat down on the bed, forcing Sharon to move further to the middle. “The kid made you coffee.”
Sharon pushed herself up into a sitting position. Brenda often referred to Rusty as ‘the kid’ but it had a twinge of affection to it and it made Sharon smile. She accepted the cup of coffee and took a big sip. ‘The kid’ really did have a way of making the perfect cup of joe.
“Are you up now?”
“Is it really noon?” Sharon furrowed her brow.
“It is.” Brenda looked at her watch, “it is, in fact, twelve oh two.”
“Thanks. Yes. I’m up.” Sharon took another big sip and Brenda got up off the bed. “Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”
“I tried around ten and I’m pretty sure you threatened to shoot me.”
Sharon laughed, “I don’t even have a gun here.”
“Hey, I never mess with a determined woman.” Brenda paused. “You were up for a while last night, weren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Sharon shrugged, “I think because I went to bed early my body thought it was time to wake up in the middle of the night.” Sharon lied.
“Do you have anything on for today?”
“I don’t know, hadn’t really thought about it.”
Brenda hovered near the bedroom door. After a long moment she reached for the doorknob but turned back to Sharon. “We’ve been here for over a month and you haven’t asked me about Fritz.”
Sharon blushed with embarrassment, “oh, I…”
“No, I wanted to say thanks. Thanks for not making it a thing.” Brenda worried her bottom lip. “Everyone treats separation as this failure and everyone always feels entitled to ask what happened like it’s any of their business.”
Sharon nodded, “try separating from your husband when you have two young children. I am no stranger to acquaintances giving unsolicited advice on the status of my marriage. As for you and Fritz, I figured if you wanted to talk about it you would.”
“I think I would… but not just yet.”
“I’m here whenever and if ever you decide you’d like to.”
Brenda smiled and it warmed Sharon from head to toe. She brought the coffee to her lips in hopes of hiding the return smile that tugged at the corners of her lips.
Around four Sharon grabbed her purse and the camera. “I’m going to run to the mall and print the pictures.”
“I’ll go with you.” Brenda got up from the couch. “I’m going cross-eyed from grading.”
“Oh, okay.” Sharon nodded, stammering only slightly. “Rusty?”
“No, there’s this movie on tv I want to catch.”
“Okay. Need anything?”
“All right, it’s just you and me.” Sharon smiled at Brenda, turning on her heel.
The drive to the mall was short and silent. Once they arrived they went to the CVS and Sharon sat at the photo kiosk and inserted the memory card. Rusty had taken pictures the rest of the day after the picnic and one person had even volunteered to take a picture of the three of them. Sharon figured she’d get the whole card printed considering four by sixes were only eighteen cents and get an eight by ten of the one of the three of them.
Brenda wandered up and down the aisles, opening a lotion to smell or reading the label of a shampoo every now and then. By the time Sharon’s instant prints were done Brenda had an armload of sundries and candies.
“Anything else you want to do in the mall?” Brenda asked once they were back in the throng of mall goers.
Sharon’s heart sped up a little as she considered how to answer the question. Mercifully Brenda continued, sparing Sharon from having to.
“I saw a skirt in the window of Anne Taylor that I’d like to try on.”
“That sounds nice. I’m going to pop into Bath & Body Works.” Sharon gestured vaguely behind her.
“Okay, I won’t be long.”
“Take your time.” Sharon insisted. She watched Brenda cross the aisle and go a few shops down before arriving at Anne Taylor and Sharon took a few steps back towards the Bath & Body Works and once she was satisfied that Brenda could no longer see her she detoured to the Spencer’s Gifts.
The store was dark and the music they played was loud and angsty, the wall in front of her was covered in gothic jewelry and skater gear, almost all of it black and most of it sporting spikes or pot leaves. The guy behind the counter who looked up from his magazine and gave her a nod had blue hair and multiple lip rings and gauged ears.
As she moved down the aisles, none of the other patrons spared her a second glance but still she felt like she stuck out like a sore thumb. Perhaps her discomfort was more related to the item she was intending to purchase than to whether or not she was dressed appropriately.
She stopped at the back wall and looked over the selection of vibrators. She was grateful for the dim lighting because she was sure that she was already blushing.
“Need a recommendation?” A voice asked behind her and she startled, turning to see a smirking goth girl. “You look a little lost.”
“No, I…” Sharon looked helplessly at the selection.
The sales girl looked her up and down, no doubt appraising her as an uptight yuppie whose husband was now more interested in his secretary than his aging wife. Sharon wanted to be offended by the look she was being given but it was true that she was a little lost. In the past, if she got to the point where she was as aroused as she was the night before she was usually in a relationship and when she wasn’t in a relationship that part of her seemed to go into a sort of hibernation.
The girl reached past her and plucked a box from the shelf and handed it to Sharon. “It’s waterproof so it’s good for the bath. It vibrates – which is always a plus. And it’s a great price.”
Sharon looked down at the box.
“It comes in other colors.” The girl said, sensing Sharon’s hesitation.
“No, this is good. It’s perfect. Thank you.”
Sharon went up the blue haired boy and paid quickly, opting to put it directly into her purse instead of a bag and hurried out of the store. She glanced around and didn’t see Brenda so she started walking toward Anne Taylor. When she entered the store she felt much more at ease.
Brenda was perusing a rack of sweaters and smiled upon seeing Sharon. She held up a turquoise sweater up, “does this color look okay on me?”
“The cut is great but I would stick to a warm color. You look amazing in warm colors.”
“Why, Captain, I never knew you cared.” Brenda grinned, sticking the turquoise sweater back on the rack and shifting garments to locate a warm. “It comes in other colors.”
I'm so grateful for all the comments!
Sharon spread the pictures out on the kitchen table. “Rusty, do you want to see the pictures you took?”
“Sure.” He set the remote down and took a seat opposite Sharon at the table.
“These are really good pictures.” Sharon picked a couple at random. “They have really good composition.”
“I was just fooling around.” He shrugged.
“Have you thought of photography? I bet if you took a class or something you’d get a lot out of it.”
Brenda, who was in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of Merlot, interjected, “the college has art classes and since you’re technically my kid you’d get to take it for free.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; I didn’t even say I wanted to do photography.”
“I think you should definitely think about it.” Sharon insisted. “We should probably select out some of these and start you a portfolio.”
“Wow, crazy lady, thanks but I’m okay.” He scoffed. He got up and was about to go back to the living room when he caught sight of one of the ones of him and Brenda. “Damnit, did you give me bunny ears?”
Brenda laughed and grinned mischievously. “Yeah.”
“Welcome to the world of being embarrassed by your parents.” Sharon gave his chin a squeeze.
He scowled and waved her off but Sharon didn’t miss the amusement that showed in his eyes. “Whatever, I’m going to go listen to music in my room.”
“Don’t stay up too late.”
“You got it.”
Sharon shuffled through a few more pictures before she found the pictures that Rusty had taken of her and Brenda. One in particular caught Sharon’s attention: Sharon was looking straight ahead at the camera and Brenda was turned and smiling at Sharon. Sharon smiled, touching the glossy surface.
“Any good ones for your desk?” Brenda asked.
Sharon blushed and tilted her head further down, shuffling through the pictures, “yeah, Rusty’s a great photographer.”
She grabbed a handful of the pictures and shoved them into her purse. As she did this, she was reminded of the other purchase she’d made while out at the mall. Suddenly she realized that she had yet to be alone in the house and realized that finding the opportunity to use it might be tricky.
“Happy Monday.” Julia greeted Sharon with a smile and held up a bottle, “if you have your glass I have a two thousand thirteen South African Chenin Blanc.”
“Sounds delicious,” Sharon took the glass out of the bottom drawer of her desk and set it down.
Julia poured in a few sips of wine and let Sharon swirl, smell and sip before asking, “what do you think?”
“I haven’t had a lot of Chenin Blanc but it’s very good.” Sharon took another sip before saying. “Thanks for suggesting going to TJ Maxx on Thursday. I finally got around to getting some pictures printed.”
“Awesome.” Julia smiled. She joined Sharon on her side of the desk. Sharon had set a picture of her and Rusty and another of her and Rusty and Brenda. “Your son is so handsome; I bet he’s a heartbreaker.”
Sharon chuckled, “I think he is and he doesn’t even know it.”
“And your wife is so beautiful.” Julia straightened up, “I’m looking forward to meeting her.”
“At the company picnic on Saturday?”
“Oh right.” Sharon flushed a little. She’d received the invitation to the picnic and had rsvp’d but when she’d read ‘spouses welcome’ she forgot that she currently had a spouse. “My mind’s on other things, I guess.”
“I’ll let you get back to it then.”
After Julia left Sharon worried her bottom lip. Brenda would definitely want to go to the picnic. Sharon wasn’t sure but she’d imagine that the wine would be plentiful and Brenda would never forgive Sharon if she’d deprived her of the opportunity.
At the house, pretending to be married was one thing: they shared chores and a house – in fact the only thing that set them even slightly above roommates was the fact that they’d taken to sharing the bed. It was even alright when they’d entertained the neighbors, it was just one couple. The idea of Brenda escorting Sharon to a function seemed very official and more than a little daunting.
Sharon opened the refrigerator and huffed in annoyance. “There’s nothing in here. There’s nothing to make for dinner.”
“Just order Chinese.” Brenda shrugged, engrossed in her grading.
“Or pizza.” Rusty said hopefully.
Sharon slammed the refrigerator shut and Rusty and Brenda startled, looking up questioningly at the brunette.
“Get whatever you want.” Sharon snapped, grabbing her keys. “I’m going out. Don’t wait up.”
Rusty and Brenda watched Sharon leave, wide-eyed and shocked. Sharon slammed the front door behind her and they startled again.
“What’s her problem?” Rusty scoffed.
Brenda shrugged helplessly.
Sharon cut the engine and got out of the car. It was dark and the air was cool and she savored the feel of it against her skin as she walked up to the house. She pulled out her keys to unlock the door and almost missed Brenda.
Brenda folded her arms across her chest and Sharon laid a hand over her heart. “You scared me.”
“Can we talk?”
“Actually, it’s kind of late.” Sharon shrugged noncommittally.
“Sit.” Brenda nodded toward the other chair on the porch.
“I have to work in the morning.” Sharon protested, even as she sank into the chair. “What?”
“What? That’s all you have to say? You throw a fit, storm out and don’t come home for five hours?” Brenda demanded. “You’ve been gone for five hours. Rusty was worried sick. I was one hour away from calling the local hospitals.”
“I don’t answer to you.” Sharon scoffed. “I am sorry I worried you.”
“You worried the boy.” Brenda corrected stubbornly. “You think it’s okay to disappear on him?”
“I will make it up to him.” Sharon nodded, starting to stand. “So, if we’re done…”
“We’re not done.”
Sharon sighed, leaning back in her chair. “Of course not.”
“What you did was just rude. If you want me to go grocery shopping just ask me.”
Sharon threw her hands up. “I shouldn’t have to ask! You’re an adult. You live in this house. Excuse me for expecting you to contribute.”
“We’re all adjusting.” Brenda pursed her lips. “But if there’s one thing I know it’s that you’re the calm and rational one. Even when you get upset you do that scary thing where you don’t raise your voice and you’re not mad, you’re disappointed. You don’t throw fits and you don’t storm out and you don’t walk out on your son. That is not you.”
Sharon was silent.
Brenda allowed the silence to stretch on.
Sharon felt her eyes well up with tears and she admitted shakily. “I’m a grandmother.”
Brenda opened her mouth to speak but then closed it again and furrowed her brow. That was not something she’d expected to hear. “I’m… sorry?”
Sharon drew her legs up comfortingly. She wiped at her eyes. “No, I’m happy. I’m really happy, I just… Emily’s due date was last week and today was the day that they were going to induce if it hadn’t happened yet. My first grandchild was born and I wasn’t able to be there for my daughter.”
Brenda put her hand on Sharon’s knee and let her cry for a few moments.
“I just feel like such a bad mother.” Sharon whispered, a sob escaping her lips.
Brenda took Sharon’s hand and tugged her closer. Sharon lowered her knees and Brenda pulled her into her arms. Sharon laid her head on Brenda’s shoulder and Brenda stoked Sharon’s hair gently.
“I’m sorry I haven’t gotten groceries.” Brenda said softly.
Sharon shrugged, pulling back from the hug. “If it hadn’t been that it would’ve been something else.” She admitted. “I was looking for a fight.”
Brenda wiped Sharon’s cheekbone with the pad of her thumb. “Why don’t you go in and let Rusty know you’re home and we’ll get to bed, okay? Tomorrow’s a new day.”
Sharon’s purse was heavy as she shifted it to pull out her keys. The bottle of Merlot sloshed as it moved and she pushed the game out of the way to grab her keyring.
Once the door was opened she took a deep breath, inhaling the aromas that greeted her.
“Welcome home.” Brenda greeted.
“Thanks.” Sharon answered, more than a little surprised.
“I picked up the kid from school and we went grocery shopping.” Brenda smiled.
“It’s manicotti,” Rusty said, “it’ll be ready in about ten minutes.”
“It’s amazing. Thank you both so much for this. I’m sorry again that I overreacted so much yesterday.” Sharon bit her lip.
Brenda beamed, “no, hold on. There’s another surprise. Close your eyes.”
“Guys.” Sharon protested but closed her eyes anyway. “I want you to know that I’m doing this with apprehension.” She laughed.
“Okay, open your eyes.” Rusty announced.
Sharon looked down and laughed. Rusty was holding up a cake with yellow icing and pink frosting roses that had CONGRATS GRANDMA scrawled neatly in green gel icing. She looked back up at Rusty and Brenda’s faces and laughed harder.
“You guys are too much!” She covered her face as she continued to laugh.
“Do you like it?” Rusty asked.
“I love it. It’s so sweet. Everything. Both of you. Thank you.” Sharon opened her purse and retrieved the Merlot and the video game. “I was the one who was a jerk yesterday.”
Rusty was wide-eyed. He set down the cake and took the game from her. “You said maybe for Christmas!”
“Yeah, well, if I only learned one thing from Jackson, it’s that people forgive you quicker if you distract them with gifts.” She said playfully.
“Oh my god, I can’t wait to play.” Rusty hastily pulled the plastic wrapping off, opening it up and spinning the disc until it was rightside up in the case. “Thank you!”
Brenda eased the bottle of Merlot out of Sharon’s hand. “I’ll just open this… Merlot goes great with Italian.”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
My very sincere apologies for how long this update has taken me and I promise that the next update won't be so distant. Thank you to everyone who commented! It does help feed the muse :)
The company picnic was set up in a large park. Tents were arranged around a central area where Sharon’s co-workers were mingling. Sharon’s heart pounded as she walked back toward Brenda. They’d already had to interact with a handful of co-workers that Sharon generally spent very little time with; Sharon was more worried about Susan and particularly about Julia.
And she’d just caught Julia’s eye and offered a slightly apprehensive smile. She and Brenda had had so few occasions where they needed to ‘put on a show’ for someone, be a ‘normal couple’ and not set off alarm bells.
Sharon nudged Brenda’s shoulder with one of the wine glasses she was holding. Brenda turned around and smiled. “Your Merlot.” Sharon held out the glass with her left hand.
“Thank you.” Brenda accepted it and sipped. “Mmm!”
“Whatever this is is my new favorite brand.” Brenda enthused.
“I see you’re impressing your wife with the perks of your job.” Julia grinned, approaching.
“I’m definitely in the wrong business.” Brenda nodded.
“What do you do?” Julia’s husband asked.
“I teach Russian at the college level.” Brenda admitted with some reluctance. Brenda was proud of her actual job experiences – as well she should be! – Sharon understood that well. Rusty had had a point, that their actual experiences were an inextricable part of themselves and pretending they didn’t exist didn’t always feel good.
“Sorry, I should do introductions.” Julia smiled. “This is my husband, Mark. Mark, Rose is the copy editor for the book we’re putting together and this is her wife, Georgia.”
Everyone who was meeting for the first time shook hands and exchanged hellos.
“I write a column,” Mark said, “it’s mostly advice for couples. So, I always ask this when I meet new people: how did you two meet?”
“Seems like forever ago.” Sharon fidgeted with her glass.
“Don’t bother Rose and Georgia.” Julia scolded lightly.
“I don’t mind.” Brenda smiled, “the first time we met was in a hospital waiting room actually. I was there for a friend and Rose swept in like she owned the place. She was flawless and breathtaking and I instantly disliked her.”
Sharon chuckled, sipping her wine.
“We didn’t see each other for a while after that and when we did we were usually at odds. But then she helped me out of a tight spot and I felt like I was seeing her for the first time… In a time when everyone else was giving up on me she was there for me.” Brenda turned to Sharon. “That’s when I knew.”
Sharon smiled despite herself, feeling a slight flush in her cheeks.
“That’s really sweet.” Julia grinned.
“What can I say? She’s a romantic.” Sharon put an arm around Brenda. Brenda leaned in and kissed Sharon’s cheek, making Sharon blush.
“I’m so excited about that wine.” Brenda glanced back at the bottle on the backseat. “I love your job.”
“Yeah.” Sharon nodded, “it’s a little boring sometimes but it has its perks.”
“I was kind of dreading the party but I actually had fun.”
“Me too.” Sharon agreed.
“And the food was great.”
“Uh-huh.” Sharon nodded again.
“Somethin’ wrong?” Brenda tilted her head.
Sharon shrugged a little. “No. I wouldn’t say wrong.”
“Okay…” Brenda chuckled humorlessly. “What would you say then?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I liked what you said but that’s not what our dossiers said for how we met.”
“I know, I know.” Brenda rolled her eyes, “but ‘being set up by a mutual friend’ is very boring. I like the way we actually met. I like the story of starting out as enemies and then earning each other’s respect until we became friends is a much better story and happens to be the truth.”
“I like that we became friends.” Sharon admitted softly.
“Me too.” Brenda grinned, forgetting about her previous annoyance. “I haven’t had a girlfriend since college.”
Sharon bit her lip, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. “It’s nice having a… girlfriend.”
“Do you want to stop for coffee?” Brenda asked suddenly.
“Um,” Sharon glanced at the time on the dashboard and shrugged. “Yeah, I could go for a cup.”
Once situated at a table in Starbucks with their coffees Brenda took a sip of her triple caramel macchiato and then set it back down.
Sharon tilted her head. “Too sweet?”
Brenda laughed a little. “No. The coffee’s perfect.”
“I don’t know how you have any teeth left.” Sharon teased.
“My mama used to say the same thing.” Brenda smiled and took another sip of her drink. “I’ve really been feelin’ close to you recently. Maybe it’s just ‘cause we’re sharin’ a bed these days and you opened up to me about your grandbaby. I don’t know.”
Sharon put a hand over Brenda’s in a comforting gesture. The speed of Brenda’s words was picking up and the accent was getting stronger which, Sharon had observed, only happened when Brenda was nervous about something.
“Fritz and I are over.” Brenda said, looking visibly relieved for having said it. She leaned back in her chair and let out a breath. “You don’t know how good it actually feels to say it out loud.”
“I might have some idea.”
“Yeah, you might.” Brenda grinned. “Officially we’re ‘takin’ a break’ but that’s just the coward’s way of sayin’ it’s over. No, actually, this is the coward’s way of sayin’ it’s over. I went to the other side of the country and changed my name. I just… couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him I wanted out. I tried a couple times but I just couldn’t say the words.”
“It isn’t exactly that I don’t love him anymore, I just don’t want to be with him. Is that horrible?”
“No.” Sharon shook her head, taking Brenda’s hand. Brenda turned her hand over to let Sharon’s fingers slide between hers. “You have to do what’s right for you.”
“I think I stayed for so long because I was afraid I was bein’ selfish for wanting to quit. I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of the same old fights and the same old passive aggression. He clearly doesn’t seem to like bein’ married to me either. I guess neither one of us can just say it.”
“It’s hard.” Sharon agreed. “Jackson and I went through the same thing. There was an embarrassingly long period of on again off again which – in hindsight – was really unfair to the kids.”
“Thank the Lord I never had children.” Brenda chuckled.
“Well, you kind of have one now.” Sharon smiled.
“I guess I do.”
“And you’re actually a really good mother.”
“No, I mean it. He really respects you. He knows he can talk me out of anything but he knows he can’t pull one over on you.”
“I’m the mean one?”
“One of us has to be.” Sharon said playfully and Brenda laughed.
“I like bein’ married to you and havin’ a kid with you.” Brenda gave Sharon’s hand a squeeze.
Sharon ducked her head shyly, sipping from her rapidly cooling chai latte.
“I kinda thought this would be horrible but it’s not. It’s… I like being here with you and with the kid.” Brenda smiled. “And, like I said before, thank you for not asking about Fritz and thank you for listening just now.”
“You can talk to me anytime about anything.” Sharon insisted.
“You’re goin’ to regret that.” Brenda laughed.
Brenda and Sharon entered the house. Brenda tossed her keys onto the entryway table and Sharon placed hers in the key bowl.
“Hey.” Rusty said from the living room, barely looking over his shoulder as he played his video game. “This is Erica Munoz from up the street.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Murrays.” She greeted, also not looking too far away from the video game.
“Likewise, Erica. And, please, call us Rose and Georgia.” Sharon said, walking into the kitchen.
“How was the party thing?” Rusty asked.
“It was good.” Brenda nodded.
“How about I order us some pizzas for dinner?” Sharon suggested. “Can you stay for dinner, Erica?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Murray. I have to call my parents but I’m sure they’ll say yes.” Erica answered.
Later that evening Rusty came back from walking Erica home. Sharon and Brenda were seated on the couch with glasses of wine.
“Didn’t you spend, like, all day at a wine event?”
“Cheeky kid.” Sharon winked. “So, Erica’s nice. I’m glad you’re making friends.”
“Yeah, she’s nice.” Rusty shrugged. “Anyway, I’m going to my room.”
“Goodnight, honey.” Sharon smiled.
“Goodnight.” Rusty gave a little wave before turning to go down the hallway. He stopped and turned around, leaning against the doorframe.
Sharon laughed at something Brenda said and they each leaned close as they spoke. Rusty may not have been a very good judge of when someone was flirting with him but he realized, watching the two women, that from the outside it was a very obvious thing.
Sharon awoke with a start. Brenda was still sleeping soundly on her side of the bed.
Sharon slipped out of the covers, the cool night air made her sweaty skin feel almost clammy but the heat radiating from her center was enough to distract her from that. She eased the en suite bathroom closed, not wanting to wake Brenda, and turned the lock.
The tap turned on and Sharon waited to see if the noise would draw Brenda’s curiosity. The tub finished filling, Sharon turned it off and stopped to listen again. Brenda was apparently still deeply asleep.
Sharon reached under the sink and located the box with her package from the mall and tipped out the sex toy. She pulled her nightgown off and kicked off her panties and slipped into her bath.
The dildo had a vibrating function but Sharon dared not switch it on with only a door in between Brenda and herself. For a moment, she couldn’t believe that she was actually going to do this. The pulsing arousal between her legs reminded her that it would be easier to return to sleep if she provided herself some relief.
She could lay there and talk herself down or she could just take care of it. Considering how wet she was and how long it had been she didn’t figure it would take long anyway.
Sharon submerged the toy into the water, thought about it nervously for another moment before pushing the dildo slowly into herself. Sharon felt her eyes roll back a bit, reveling in the feeling of stretching around the toy, the friction as she began to work it in and out.
Sharon gripped the side of the bathtub with her free hand, her thrusts coming faster and more controlled. The friction and heat at her center radiated out through the rest of her body until she came. It was harder than she’d expected, and it sent out aftershocks and finally she opened her eyes again.
The room was quiet except for her deep breaths which she was trying to slow to normal. She let out the bath, toweled off and put her nightgown back on. She washed the toy under the hot tap, dried it with a towel and stuck it back in its box and stashed it under the sink again.
When she emerged back into the bedroom she was feeling considerably better. She slipped back under the covers and Brenda wrapped an arm around her. Sharon didn’t stiffen this time.
“You’re wet.” Brenda murmured.
Sharon had a small moment of panic before she realized what Brenda had actually meant. “I took a bath.” She whispered.
Sharon stuck to her morning routine of running. She went from doing it a couple of mornings a week to every day. The simple act of running felt normal and sane. While she was running it didn’t matter which name she was using or if she was pretending to be something she wasn’t – she was just a person who was out running.
One morning she was lacing up her shoes when Rusty emerged from his room.
“Hey Rusty.” Sharon greeted with a smile. “I didn’t mean to wake you, you can sleep a bit longer.”
“Actually… can I go running with you?”
“Oh.” Sharon’s eyebrows went up. “Yes, of course. Grab your sneakers, I’ll fill a water bottle for you.”
It was quickly apparent that with company Sharon couldn’t get up to her regular speed. She jogged along with Rusty, happy for the time with him.
“I wanted to talk to you about something.” He admitted, huffing a little as he ran.
“You can talk to me about anything.” Sharon insisted, reminding herself again to slow a bit.
“You know back when I was telling you about my friend Zach and you were saying I should take a chance because maybe he does flirt with me?”
“Mm-hm.” Sharon nodded.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that and it made me realize that maybe some people don’t see it when they’re in it. Like, if they’re too close to it they don’t see it when it’s happening when someone else outside of it can totally see it.” Rusty explained.
Sharon nodded agreeably. “Are you going to ask Zach out?”
“No. Well, maybe. I mean…” he stopped and Sharon stopped, walking back to him. “You and Brenda.”
“What about us?”
“You should explore that.” He insisted.
“Explore… what?” Sharon furrowed her brow. “There’s nothing going on between us.”
“You share a bed.” Rusty scoffed. “You’ve been sharing a bed for like two months.”
Sharon shrugged, “the couch is not comfortable and there’s only one bed.”
“You’ve been getting so close!” Rusty sighed. “You should see the way she looks at you.”
“We’ve been getting close because we live together. We’ve been thrust together in this situation and we’re stuck with each other for a year and there’s no point in not being friends. Besides all that, she’s married to a man and I was married to a man.”
“She’s married to a man that she left behind in L.A.” Rusty threw his hands up. “Who does that? And your marriage to Jackson? That’s been basically over since before I was born.”
Sharon patted Rusty’s shoulder. “I appreciate the thought.” She smiled, “I know that you mean well.”
Rusty sighed inwardly. He’d just been on the receiving end of the Raydor ‘end of discussion’ brush off. Sharon started to jog again and Rusty jogged after her.
He’d have to think of a new tactic.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
“Hey, do we have anything to do next Friday?” Rusty asked, casually strolling into the kitchen where Brenda was working on grading and Sharon was reading.
Brenda looked up and shrugged. Sharon thought about it for a moment. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Cool – because I signed you guys up for being chaperones at the dance.” He said quickly, turning away as quickly as he’d come.
“Hold on a second!” Sharon protested. “It’s awfully short notice, isn’t it? And you didn’t ask us first?”
“I’m on the committee and I was supposed to make it more LGBT friendly and what better than including my lesbian moms as chaperones.”
Sharon sighed a little. “Does it even count if we’re fake lesbians?”
“Sure it does.” Rusty nodded. “It’s all about perception.”
“I’m sorry for fussing about it,” Sharon waved it off. “Of course, we’ll chaperone your dance. Just maybe next time give me a little more notice?”
“Yeah. Cool.” He grinned. “Awesome. That’s great!”
Sharon laughed, watching his enthusiasm with some awe. “You seem very excited.”
“It’s my first school dance.” He shrugged, still smiling as he turned to go down the hall.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll do it too.” Brenda said as soon as Rusty’s door closed behind him.
“I guess I should’ve asked…” Sharon smiled sheepishly. “I just was never able to help out with Ricky and Emily’s field trips or dances and I wanted to do this for Rusty.”
“I wasn’t saying I wouldn’t do it.” Brenda shrugged playfully. “You bring me a lot of wine from your work, so…”
“You’re right. I do.” Sharon poured herself a glass of Chardonnay and sat down with Brenda at the table. “What are you working on?”
“Grading.” Brenda rolled her eyes. “It just never ends.”
“Do you want to watch a movie with me?”
“Yes.” Brenda shoved the grading away. “I want to anything that isn’t grading.”
Sharon chuckled, “do you want to go down to the CVS and pick something from Redbox with me?”
“Sure.” Brenda got up and grabbed her purse.
“I’m going to see if Rusty’s interested in joining.” Sharon said as she started down the hall.
“And we can grab a pizza on the way home.” Brenda suggested.
"What should we wear to this dance?" Brenda asked.
Rusty shrugged. "How should I know? You've been to a dance before, haven't you?"
"Georgie Girl is from the land of dances. I bet she's been the belle of the ball many a time."
Brenda scowled playfully. "I wasn't ever the belle of any ball except my coming out party but everyone's the belle of their own coming out so it doesn't really count."
"When did you come out?" Rusty's eyebrows went up in surprise.
Sharon laughed. "Different kind of coming out."
"It's like saying I'm a woman. It’s kinda a version of an upper class thing, the debutante ball, but we treated it like a sweet sixteen."
"Boring." Rusty teased.
"Speaking of coming out parties," Sharon turned to Rusty and he groaned. "Do you have a date to the dance?"
“Ha ha ha.” Rusty shrugged. "Erica and I are going together."
"Oh, I thought you were... of a different persuasion." Brenda said.
"I am..." Rusty regarded Brenda oddly. "We're going as friends."
"Does she know it's just friends?"
"Yes, Sharon. This isn't Catholic school; I'm actually out here."
"Well, that's nice, right?" Sharon put her hand on Rusty's arm.
"Yeah, whatever." Rusty shrugged but his smile made Sharon grin.
Sharon leaned her head against Rusty's and he nudged her familiarly. Brenda was glad that Rusty had told people that Sharon was his biological mother; Brenda didn't like the idea of usurping the relationship they actually had together.
"So, did we settle what we're all wearing?"
"Matching velour track suits?" Sharon suggested and Brenda laughed.
"Oh my god, kill me." Rusty rolled his eyes. "I'm out of here before you guys decide you're serious."
"We're your parents!" Sharon called after him. "It's our job to embarrass you!"
Brenda laughed and shook her head.
Sharon put her hand on Brenda's. "We'll go dress shopping."
“Oh my god, no, stop.” Rusty held his hand up. “Come on, you guys.”
Sharon held up her camera. “Just one more.”
“Fine.” He draped his arm around Erica’s shoulders and Erica gave the rock and roll sign.
“Very cute.” Sharon grinned.
“I humored you, now I want to take a picture of you two.” Rusty grabbed the camera from Sharon before she could protest.
Brenda wrapped an arm around Sharon’s waist and pulled her close. Sharon smiled, turning slightly to Brenda and Rusty snapped a couple of shots.
“Your moms are so cute.” Erica whispered, looking over Rusty’s shoulder at the camera.
“Don’t encourage them.” He teased.
“So, we can all go in our car, if you’d like.” Sharon motioned to the car.
“Actually, Holden and I were invited to a party afterward, if that’s cool with you. I’m happy to drive.”
“What time does the party go until?” Sharon asked.
Rusty gave her a long suffering look which Sharon totally ignored.
“It goes until, like, one but it’s at the roller rink so there’s no drinking or anything.” Erica insisted. “It’s just, like, eating pizza and drinking soda and making idiots of ourselves on skates.”
Sharon nodded, “okay, sounds good. We’ll see you at the dance.”
The auditorium was dark and loud and filled with sweaty teenagers. Brenda felt more out of place than she would have thought possible. She stood against the wall, surveying the crowd. All the teenagers blended together but she didn’t think anything seemed particularly amiss.
Sharon returned with two plastic cups and offered one to Brenda.
“Tell me it’s spiked.” Brenda called over the punk music.
“Unfortunately, no.” Sharon smiled. “And I think it’s Hawaiian Punch with Sierra Mist.”
Brenda scowled and Sharon nodded. “My sentiments exactly.”
“What’s the food situation?”
“Not a lot better.”
Brenda looked at her watch. “How much longer are we here for?”
Sharon put her hand on Brenda’s watch and pushed her hand back down to her side with a laugh. “Relax, it’s only one more hour.”
“You want to grab a bite to eat after we get out of here?” Brenda swirled the punch around in the cup absently. “Thank heavens the kid didn’t sign us up for clean up.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
On the other side of the room Rusty was seated with Erica and a handful of other kids from GSA when Zach pulled up a seat next to him. “So, how are you liking your first dance?”
Rusty nodded, “yeah, it’s…”
“Have you danced at all?”
Rusty shrugged, “sort of a little bit. Erica made me dance with her to a Lady Gaga song.”
“So, one dance?” His eyebrows went up.
“Yeah, technically.” Rusty shrugged again, “if it’s a quantitative thing. Qualitatively, I was all over it.”
“Come on, I requested some Jay-Z, let’s dance.”
“You can request songs?” Rusty blinked.
Zach laughed, “yeah, you just go up to the DJ and ask.”
“Like, any song?”
“Well, if he has it.” Zach grinned, “so, come on, come dance. I’ll teach you how to breakdance badly.”
Rusty laughed, “okay, you win. I’m just going to request a song first.”
The speakers were so loud that Rusty could feel the music in his bones as he approached the DJ’s table. He leaned closer to the DJ and the DJ reciprocated. Rusty was yelling but he still couldn’t hear the sound of his own voice. The DJ shrugged helplessly, pointing to his ear and shaking his head.
“Song?” The DJ shouted. “A request?”
Rusty nodded enthusiastically, again attempting to yell his song request.
The DJ just shrugged again but he indicated a pad of paper with REQUESTS scrawled across the top and a handful of songs written. Rusty yelled “thanks!” and picked up the pen, quickly writing.
Erica grabbed Rusty by both hands and dragged him onto the floor where they joined Zach and a couple other kids from GSA. Rusty watched the way that the others danced and tried to imitate it. Truth be told, his heart was pounding. What if the DJ didn’t have his song?
“This one is for the chaperones! Thanks for sticking it out, guys, you’re on the home stretch!” The DJ announced. The first notes of Georgie Girl began to play and Brenda looked at Sharon.
“I didn’t!” Sharon laughed. She held her hand out, “but obviously we have to dance to it, Georgie Girl.”
Brenda playfully rolled her eyes, taking her hand. Brenda wrapped her arm around Sharon’s waist and pulled close.
“I don’t know if this is a slow dance song.” Sharon protested
“Take it or leave it, R.”
“Fine.” Sharon chuckled, wrapping one arm around her shoulder and holding her hand. “I see you’re leading.”
“I outrank you.”
“Not anymore you don’t.” Sharon smiled.
Brenda shrugged noncommittally, “tomato-tomahto.”
“Did I tell you that that dress looks really good on you?” Sharon asked softly.
“Thanks.” Brenda grinned. “I had to go all out to not look like your frumpy tag along.”
Sharon laughed, “never. No would ever say that about you. You’re so beautiful. ”
“Well, aren’t you a sweet talker?”
Sharon ducked her head shyly. The last few notes of the song played and Sharon started to let go but Brenda held tighter. Brenda leaned up and pressed a kiss to Sharon’s lips.
The kiss was chaste but neither of them made any move to disengage. In the background the DJ was announcing something and the two women held onto each other. I Love It by Icona Pop started to boom through the speakers and they parted.
Sharon blushed. “I’m… going to check if Mrs. Voigt needs any help with anything.”
In the driveway, Sharon cut the engine. Brenda didn’t reach for the door so Sharon stayed still as well. “Are you…”
“Can we talk about the kiss?” Brenda blurted, untactfully.
“Uh, sure…” Sharon bit her bottom lip.
“Because I’ve been wantin’ to kiss you for a long time and you just looked so amazin’ at the dance and the song was so cute and you were holding me against you and I just… but it seemed like… you weren’t feeling the same way? I just - ”
Sharon slid her fingers into Brenda’s hair and pulled her in for part two of their first kiss. Sharon’s lips descended on Brenda’s roughly and she parted her lips. Brenda took full advantage and deepened the kiss. Sharon groaned and Brenda tilted her head and cupped Sharon’s cheeks, wanting to get as close as she could.
They broke apart breathlessly and just stared at each other for a few deafening moments before Sharon grinned and Brenda chuckled in relief and stole another little kiss before opening the car door and heading towards the front door of their house.
Sharon ran her fingers through her hair and smoothed down her blouse. She took a deep breath and let it out.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
“So how was your after party?” Sharon asked as Rusty deigned to join them in the kitchen.
He shrugged, shuffling along in his blue plaid pyjama pants. “It was good. First time on roller skates… it was a little challenging.” He poured himself a cup of coffee. He took a sip and pulled a face. “Brenda make this?”
“Be nice. She tries.”
“Hey!” Brenda protested.
Rusty sat down at the table across from Brenda.
“So, I saw you spending a lot of time with the boy in the green button down shirt…” Sharon grinned.
Rusty shrugged noncommittally. “Yeah, he’s a friend in GSA.”
“What’s his name?” Sharon asked, joining them at the table.
“That was Zach and he’s a friend.” Rusty sipped his coffee. “I’m, like, not even interested in him like that. We’re not even going to be here that long.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful relationships.” Sharon insisted. “When we return to Los Angeles you can stay in touch with the people you meet while you’re here. Once we’re using our real names again it won’t matter.”
“I guess.” Rusty shrugged, “like I said, I don’t even like him like that.”
“I said okay.”
“Yeah, but you said it like ‘okaaay.’” Rusty mimicked Sharon with an exaggerated sarcastic tone.
Sharon patted Rusty’s hand. “I said okay. I meant okay.”
“Whatever.” Rusty chuckled.
Brenda watched, bemused.
“Anyway. I’m going to Erica’s.”
“Will you be here for lunch?”
Rusty shook his head. “We’re going to order a pizza and play Halo. I’m going to go get dressed.”
Once they heard his bedroom door close Sharon turned to Brenda. “I like that his best guy pal is a girl. It’s very cute.”
“You guys are cute. Like you’re a real mom.”
Sharon laughed, “well, first of all, I am a real mom. Second of all, I even am his mom. You are too now.”
Brenda scoffed a little.
“You are. You have his best interests at heart. You’re concerned with his feelings but you’re able to be frank with him when he needs a talking to. I’ve really liked seeing you in that role.”
Brenda smiled and shrugged noncommittally. “What do you want to do today?”
“We should maybe talk about last night.” Sharon said, lowering her voice.
“Don’t read too much into that.” Brenda bristled.
Sharon laid a hand over Brenda’s. “I don’t want to just gloss over what happened. I want to have an open and honest discussion.”
Rusty’s door opened and Sharon and Brenda leaned back in their chairs nonchalantly as he walked through the kitchen. “I’m off.”
“Have fun.” Sharon waved a bit as he slipped out of the house. Sharon turned to Brenda. “Would you like to go get brunch?”
“Thank you.” Sharon said, accepting the eggs Florentine as Brenda dug into her Belgian waffle, smothered in whipped cream and strawberries.
Sharon smiled affectionately at the blonde. “You have some whipped cream on your cheeks.”
Brenda snickered and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. She watched Sharon take a few bites of her eggs before she cleared her throat. “So, you wanted to talk.”
“Yes.” Sharon nodded succinctly. “I was hoping this brunch could serve two purposes. One, I was hoping that we could take this opportunity to be on the same page about what this is.”
Brenda shrugged a little, “and the second purpose?”
“Well,” Sharon smiled somewhat shyly. “I was hoping this could be our first official date.”
Brenda felt a grin spread across her face. “I thought you were going to give me a dressing down.”
“On a first date?” Sharon teased, “what kind of a girl do you think I am?”
“As I recall, it wasn’t that hard to get you into bed…”
Sharon scoffed and laughed, “well, I never said I was a saint.”
“Pizza’s here, guys.” Mr. Munoz called into the living room.
“Thanks, dad.” Erica grabbed the box from him and set it on the coffee table.
“No problem, kiddo. Don’t get any grease on the couch or your mom’ll kill me.”
“Got it.” Erica said dismissively, opening the box and grabbing a slice of pepperoni. “So… let’s talk about last night… you and Zach…”
“Oh, not you too.” Rusty picked up a slice. “I already got the third degree this morning.”
“No, come on. He likes you. You snooze, you lose. You gotta get on that.”
“I don’t see you dating anyone.” He said pointedly.
“Well, yeah, because I don’t have any gorgeous football players crushing on me.”
“That you know of.” Rusty added.
“Oh. You’re sweet.” Erica laughed. “So, what’s the deal, is it because you used to be in Catholic school, you feel weird being out at school?”
“Well. I do feel weird being out at school, honestly.” Rusty shrugged, “but I’ve never had an actual boyfriend.”
“You have to put yourself out there.”
“Putting myself out there has never really worked out for me.”
“Just promise me you’ll think about it.”
Rusty shrugged, “I’ll think about it.”
“So was brunch the whole date or is there more?” Brenda teased.
“What do you want to do?” Sharon asked.
Brenda thought about it for a moment and then laughed, “you know what I kinda want to do?”
“Go for a walk downtown.” Brenda grinned.
“Man, you’re a cheap date.” Sharon threaded her fingers through Brenda’s and Brenda ducked her head shyly.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Sharon lay on her back on the bed and Brenda’s upper body covered Sharon’s. Sharon’s fingers glided into Brenda’s hair, massaging her scalp lightly as Brenda deepened the kiss.
Sharon moaned and the two women rolled until Brenda was pinned to the bed. Brenda’s hand slipped under Sharon’s shirt and splayed over the warm, smooth skin of her back.
Brenda captured Sharon’s lips in a bruising kiss. Sharon leaned her weight on her elbow as the kiss continued unabated. Brenda squeezed the older woman, holding her tightly. The kiss broke breathlessly. “You’re stunning.” Brenda whispered, stealing a few kisses before directing her attentions to Sharon’s neck.
“Feels so good.” Sharon husked, her voice low from arousal.
“I could keep going, if you’d like.”
Sharon nibbled her bottom lip. “I… maybe.”
Brenda unhooked Sharon’s bra and paused for a moment. She brought her hand slowly around Sharon’s torso and slipped under the loosened bra cup. Brenda’s fingers twirled Sharon’s nipple between her thumb and forefinger.
Sharon sat bolt upright. “I… sorry. Sorry, I… I don’t think I’m ready…”
“That’s okay.” Brenda insisted, even as Sharon re-clasped her bra and fled the room. “But yeah, run away...” Brenda shrugged, laying back against the pillows with an aggrieved sigh.
Sharon exited the house and walked down to the water and to the end of the dock. She sat down on the edge and dangled her feet over but the water was low and her toes only grazed the surface. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She was shaking and trying vainly to calm down.
Sharon jumped, turning around and wiping at her eyes.
“Rose, are you okay?” Sarah called, walking closer.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Sharon insisted. She was caught between the approaching Sarah and a lake. She figured that jumping in a lake to avoid talking about her feelings was not only stupid but it was only a temporary solution.
“Because you don’t look fine.” Sarah said understandingly, coming to a stop in front of her neighbor.
“I can’t really talk about it.” Sharon shook her head. “But it’s… it’s not bad.”
“But you’re sitting on your dock crying?”
“I… yeah…” Sharon looked toward the house and then back to Sarah. “I’m okay. No, I’m good. I promise. I have to go.”
Sharon walked back into the house and down the hall and opened the door to the bedroom. Brenda looked up from the bed and her book. She pulled off her reading glasses. “I thought you were going to pull another disappearing act.”
“I was going to…” Sharon admitted. “I thought about it and… I wanted to.”
“But you didn’t…” Brenda furrowed her brow.
Sharon sat down on the bed. “I want this.” She cupped Brenda’s cheek. “I’m just… so…”
“Catholic?” Brenda chuckled.
“Basically.” Sharon smiled. “I just can’t jump in with both feet. I need a little time.”
“I wasn’t rushing you. I can wait.”
“Thank you.” Sharon stroked Brenda’s cheek. “Your skin is so soft, what product do you use?”
“I just stay hydrated.” Brenda shrugged, holding back her grin. “Would it be rushing you if I kissed you?”
Sharon closed the space between them, capturing Brenda’s lips. Sharon’s fingers slipped into Brenda’s blonde waves,
“Maybe I should tell my mom that we left your house?” Rusty said as they pulled into the spot at the mall.
“We’re at the mall, not a crack den.” Erica laughed.
“I don’t think I can go in there.” Rusty blurted. “Zach’s going to be there and… I don’t know, I just don’t think I can do it.”
“Social situations are the time honored tradition of hanging out with your crush without it having to be a ‘thing.’” Erica grinned, “we’ll get some smoothies, make fun of hipsters and if you get to talk to your would-be beau then so much the better.”
“Ugh, fine.” He got out of the car and Erica followed suit. “You’re the worst, you know that, right?”
Erica took his arm as they walked. “Shut up, you fucking love me.”
“Thank you… for not being weird.”
Erica tilted her head. “You think I’m not weird?”
He laughed, “no, you’re definitely weird. I just mean, like,” he shrugged, “I don’t know.”
“Hey.” Erica stopped and turned so that she was facing Rusty, “you’re awesome, okay? So stop being a downer on yourself. If it feels like I’m pushing you to hang out with Zach just tell me. I just want you to talk to him because I know you like him. But if you want to go back to my house, we can do that. I never mind kicking your ass at Halo.”
“I want to hang out with Zach.” Rusty admitted.
They approached the food court and saw their group in line at Smoothie King and Erica snuck up behind one of her friends and put her hands over her eyes, “guess who!”
As the girls greeted each other enthusiastically, Rusty joined the line and Zach turned around. “Hey.” He smiled.
“Hey.” Rusty scuffed his shoe shyly.
“This is Cody.” Zach motioned to the boy who stood next to him in line.
“What up, bro?” Cody asked, nodding to Rusty.
“Uh, nothing…” Rusty furrowed his brow. “…you?”
“It’s all good.”
Rusty cast Erica a long suffering look and she shrugged helplessly.
“I feel like a teenager.” Sharon grinned, leaning in closer to Brenda as they sat in the corner in the back row of the darkened movie theater.
“You used to neck in movie theaters?” Brenda giggled.
The giggle drew the attention of the moviegoer a few rows down who cast them a look and then turned back to the screen, which was still playing the trailers.
“Have you never heard the stereotypes about Catholic school girls?” Sharon whispered. “They’re pretty much all true.”
“So, how many boyfriends did Miss Raydor have in high school?” Brenda teased.
“I was Miss O’Dwyer at the time and you don’t want a number.”
“That many?” Brenda’s eyebrows went up, “well, come on, now you have to tell me.”
“A lady doesn’t count.”
“A lady doesn’t have to count.” Brenda insisted, teasingly. “Bobby St. Germaine, Tom Brown, and Mike Waldron.”
“You only had three in four years of high school?”
“Four years of high school and four years of college.” Brenda scoffed. “And I married Mike.”
“Would you guys please shut up?”
“Oh, calm down. The previews haven’t even started!” Brenda insisted.
Sharon laughed, covering Brenda’s mouth with her hand. “Sorry.” She freed Brenda’s mouth and before Brenda could object, Sharon captured her lips with her own.
The sleight was soon forgotten as Sharon's tongue ran along Brenda’s bottom lip. Brenda moaned softly, deepening the kiss.
“So, uh, what do you do?” Cody asked, sipping his smoothie and sitting across from Rusty. “Like, for fun?”
Rusty shrugged. “Nothing really.”
Zach sat down between Cody and Rusty. “You didn't want anything?”
Rusty folded his arms across his chest. “I'm not hungry; Erica and I ate already.”
Zach laughed. “That doesn't seem to have stopped her.” He nodded toward Erica who was seated in front of a tray of chicken nuggets and French fries. “If I ate like she ate I'd be five hundred pounds.”
“Yeah. She does kinda eat all the time.” Rusty agreed.
“You go to the same school, right? Are you on the football team too?”
Rusty furrowed his brow. “I play chess.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Fun game, I like when you line it up just right and then jump a bunch of pieces and yell ‘king me!’”
Rusty frowned. “That’s checkers.”
Cody laughed. “I’m just fucking with you, dude. I know what chess is. Maybe we could play sometime.”
Rusty shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t been playing much recently.”
“Cody’s on the wrestling team.”
“Cool…” Rusty nodded.
Brenda and Sharon left the movie theater with the other moviegoers, hand in hand, walking towards the mall exit when they were passing by the food court.
“Hey, there’s Rrrrrr…” Brenda froze, the first letter of Rusty stuck on a loop. Sharon’s eyes widened. “Rrrrrose!” She finished and Sharon almost let out an audible sigh.
“Rose, look, there’s Holden.” Brenda winced at her own near slip.
Rusty was all too happy for the distraction and got up abruptly from his table. Erica looked over at him questioningly but he ignored her. He stepped up to the two women. “What are you doing here?”
“We… went to a movie.” Sharon shrugged. “I thought you were at Erica’s.”
“We were.” He shrugged. “She wanted to come to the mall and hang out with some people.”
Sharon nodded, “that’s absolutely fine with me. Please, next time send me a quick text if you’re changing venues. Just so I know where you are.”
“Sure.” He nodded, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Sharon furrowed her brow. “Are you not having a good time?”
“Not particularly.” He admitted. “Can I go home with you guys? Please?”
“Of course.” Sharon nodded, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Is everything okay?”
He knew that he should be mortified to have his mother touching him in public, but he was grateful for Sharon. She could overreact with the best of them and the claws came out if she thought anyone might want to hurt him. He hadn’t realized that having a mother that cared that freaking much was all he ever wanted and other teenagers take their smothers for granted.
Rusty gave her a small but genuine smile. “It’s been better. But everything’s okay.”
“Why don’t you go tell Erica that you’re coming with us?” Sharon suggested.
“You can even blame it on us.” Brenda suggested with a smile. “Tell her we were annoyed that you didn’t tell us you were coming to the mall.”
“Okay.” Rusty agreed.
“Do you encourage everyone to lie to women or just my teenaged son?” Sharon teased.
“Our teenaged son. And I advocate lying to anyone anytime it stops someone from getting into trouble.” Brenda grinned. “I would’ve thought you’d have realized that about me by now. I have always been upfront about that.”
“Fair enough.” Sharon nodded.
Rusty joined them again. “Okay, let’s peace.”
Sharon put a hand on his back, giving him a comforting pat.
Rusty spent a silent ride in the backseat glued to his phone and once they got back to the house Brenda excused herself to grade quizzes. Rusty flopped down onto the couch.
“Want to watch a movie?” Sharon asked, sitting down on the other couch.
He shrugged. “Maybe later.”
“Did something happen at the mall?” She inquired. “Didn’t I see you with the same boy that you were with at the dance?”
“Ugh, you’re such a cop sometimes.” He pulled a pillow against his chest.
“That’s a classic defensive move.” Sharon responded.
Rusty sighed, dropping the pillow. “Fine. Yeah. It was the same guy. And his new boyfriend.” He all but rolled his eyes. “So… you know, not great.”
“I’m sorry, Rusty.”
“Yeah, whatever.” He shook his head. “And by the way. It didn’t escape my attention that you were holding hands with Brenda.”
Sharon shrugged. “For cover. We’re pretending to be married after all.”
He smiled indulgently. “I’m going to go do some homework.” He pushed himself up off the couch and paused next to Sharon. “Thanks for getting me out of there.”
“I always have your back.” She smiled.
He paused for a moment before leaning down and hugging her. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Rusty.” She kissed his temple and gave him a squeeze as they released.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
“You have a long weekend coming up for teacher training day.” Mrs. Zbornak announced, standing in front of the whiteboard. “The good news is that there’s no reading.”
The class erupted with excited chatter.
Mrs. Zbornak raised her hands to get their attention back. “But I’m going to split you up into pairs and together you’re going to make a study guide for one of the books we’ve read so far.”
The class groaned.
“You’ll present your work to the class next week and we’ll make a study guide packet for the whole class to use to prepare for the midterm.”
She stepped up to Rusty’s desk, leafing through the handouts. “Mr. Murray.”
“Let me guess…” He sighed, holding his hand out for the paper.
“Catcher in the Rye.” Mrs. Zbornak and Rusty said together.
“Thanks.” He nodded.
“And why don’t you work with Mr. Pearson?” She laid the second Catcher in the Rye sheet in front of Zach.
Rusty and Zach turned to look at each other in surprise. Rusty wanted to object but Mrs. Zbornak had already moved on, assigning Wuthering Heights to the girl behind him.
Sharon looked up and smiled. “Hi Julia.”
“Care for a 2012 California Sauvignon Blanc?” She held up the bottle.
“Oh, yes, please.” Sharon retrieved her wine glass from the shelf behind her.
Julia entered and poured a little wine into the glass. Sharon swirled the wine in the glass and leaned in to get a smell of the bouquet and then sipped it. “That’s delightful.”
And it was. And it tasted like home. The winery that produced the Sauvignon Blanc was one she’d been to many times over the years. She wanted to tell Julia that if she thought the 2012 vintage was good that she should have had the 2006, but she held her tongue.
“Are you working from home tomorrow?”
Sharon nodded. “Susan suggested it since the weather is a little iffy heading into the weekend.”
“I’ll put aside one of the Sauvignon Blancs for you.” Julia promised. “And would Georgia like a Merlot?”
“Always.” Sharon laughed. “Thank you. You spoil me.”
Julia leaned in and smiled conspiratorially. “You’re always on time, you finish your work ahead of schedule, and you never complain. You never make my life difficult. You can have all the wine you want as far as I’m concerned.”
Brenda and Rusty were both at the kitchen table working on their homework when Sharon arrived home. The bottles in her purse clinked together and Brenda perked up.
“You’re like a wine sniffing dog.” Sharon laughed, pulling the two bottles out and setting them on the counter. “We’re all stocked up for our potential snow day tomorrow. Let’s stay in and watch classic movies all day or something.”
“I have to meet Zack tomorrow afternoon.” Rusty sighed. “We have to do this outline together. It’s stupid.”
“It’s nice you get to be partners with your friend, at least.” Brenda said, giving him a nudge.
“No, it’s fine. I just don’t like Catcher in the Rye.” He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter who the partner is.”
Sharon was applying lotion to her arms as she approached the bed. Brenda took off her glasses. “Is everything good with the kid?”
Sharon smiled. “He’ll be okay. He’s just having boy troubles.”
“Been there, done that.” Brenda laughed.
Sharon peeled back the covers. “Right?” She slid under the sheets and Brenda smiled, setting her glasses down and cuddling up to the brunette.
Sharon pulled her closer and pulled her into a kiss. Brenda moaned softly, smiling against Sharon’s lips. Brenda leaned her forehead against Sharon’s. “Do you date much back in L.A.?”
“Almost never.” Sharon admitted.
“Any particular reason?”
Sharon shrugged a little. “I don’t know. Lack of time? Very little gratification for a lot of effort.”
Brenda reached up and brushed a lock of hair away from Sharon’s face. “Are you worried that this… us, whatever will be a disappointment?”
Sharon shook her head. “No.” She said honestly. “I don’t know… the last person I slept with was Jackson. Which is just… so embarrassing, really, on a molecular level.”
“I’m not judging you.”
“You probably should… I mean, we’re still technically married, but I do date other people and so does he.” Sharon sighed a little. “I guess just sometimes it seems like a way to get some of my needs met without putting in effort into a new person.”
“Well, it’s… it’s familiar and comfortable, right?” Brenda traced lazy circles on Sharon’s bare arm.
“You haven’t met Jackson… have you?”
“He’s on the public defender’s list; I work at the DA’s office.” Brenda laughed. “Yes, I’ve met him.”
“Oh god.” Sharon groaned. “He didn’t try to hit on you, did he?”
“I said I’ve met him, didn’t I?” Brenda teased.
“Keep saying ‘oh god’ like that and you’re going to give me ideas.” Brenda grinned.
Sharon draped an arm Brenda, returning her grin. “You’re going to lie right to my face and say that you didn’t already have those ideas?”
Brenda giggled. “Fine. My mind is filthy and needs very little encouragement.” Brenda stifled a yawn. “Excited to spend all day with you tomorrow.”
Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
“Call me when you want me to come pick you up, okay?”
Rusty made no move to get out of the car.
“Are you okay?” Sharon put a hand on her son’s shoulder.
“I’m fine.” He paused. “You know, I had my own car in L.A.”
“We don’t exactly have a lot of discretionary funds.” Sharon said. “We can talk about it though. Maybe I could work it out with Brenda that we share a car and you can drive mine.”
“That’s not… I don’t want to take your car away from you.”
“It won’t even remotely be the biggest thing I’ve sacrificed for one of my children.”
Rusty smiled at her. “I can’t believe they wanted me to say Brenda was my mom. That was stupid, like they didn’t even bother to know us at all.”
Sharon smiled. “I’m glad you thought so too. I was actually pretty mad about that. You’re my son and nothing will ever change that.”
He leaned over and hugged her.
She gave him a squeeze, rubbing his back. “Be productive. Have some fun. Call me when you’d like to be picked up.”
“Thanks.” He grabbed his backpack by the strap and opened the door. “Have fun at home too.”
Sharon waited until Rusty got safely into the house, waving to Zach’s mother before putting the car into gear and heading out.
When she arrived back home, Brenda had taken the opportunity to put out a cheese plate and set out the Merlot Sharon had acquired the day before and a Riesling from Sharon’s stash.
“Did you pick a movie?” Sharon asked, sitting on the couch next to Brenda, putting her arms around her and pulling her close.
“Sixteen Candles.” Brenda smiled excitedly, pressing play on the remote. “Did it start snowing yet?”
“Yeah, just a little. The car said it was thirty five so it wasn’t really sticking yet.”
Rusty picked up the notebook pages. “Okay, so you wanna type it up or I could or…”
Zach shrugged. “Yeah. Either way.”
“What’s going on? You’ve barely talked to me all evening.” Rusty sighed.
“Kinda like the other day at the mall when Cody was trying to ask you about yourself and you barely said anything?” Zach pursed his lips. “You were kinda being a dick to him.”
“Why was he asking so many questions anyway?” Rusty frowned defensively. “What’s his problem?”
“His problem? What’s your problem? He wants to get to know you.”
“Why?” Rusty demanded.
“Because he wants to get to know my friends and you’re important to me!”
“Am I?” Rusty smirked.
“Don’t do that.”
“It’s fine that you didn’t make a move. I got over it.” Zach sighed. “But you can’t throw a tantrum if I find someone.”
“Who said I wasn’t going to make a move?”
“How long am I supposed to wait?”
Rusty leaned back in his chair with a defensive shrug. “I didn’t know there was an ultimatum on the table.”
“Maybe we should just work on the project.” Zach said softly.
Brenda was putting the Breakfast Club into the DVD player, third in the John Hughes marathon that Brenda had orchestrated, when Sharon’s phone went off. She looked down at the display. “It’s Zach’s mother.” She said as she accepted the call. “Hello.”
“Hi, Mrs. Murray, this is Connie Pearson.”
“Yes, hi. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, not to worry, everything is good here. I was just looking out the window and it’s really coming down out there and they’re saying it might even get to the level of a nor’easter and I don’t want you to drive in it if you don’t have to. We’d be happy to have Holden spend the night here.”
Sharon hesitated for a moment. “And you already asked Holden?”
“Yeah, and don’t worry, we have a spare toothbrush and he can borrow some pyjamas of Zach’s.”
“Okay,” Sharon nodded, “thank you, that’s very nice of you.”
Brenda looked up expectantly.
“That was Zach’s mom. She suggested that Rusty spend the night since the weather is getting so bad.” Sharon sat down on the couch and opened her texts, typing one to her son.
She waited a moment and got a return text from Rusty.
She set her phone down and Brenda wrapped her arms around the brunette. Sharon smiled warmly as Brenda nuzzled against her neck.
“Who were you in high school?” Brenda asked.
Sharon chuckled. “Why don’t you guess?”
“Okay…” Brenda paused to think. “Well, you’re very level headed and practical and goal oriented. I think the obvious answer is the studious relative-loner. But that might be too obvious. I think having to put up with Jackson probably drew out some of those characteristics… I bet you had a wild side.”
Sharon was transfixed, watching Brenda twirl a lock of Sharon’s chocolate brown hair around her pointer finger.
“You made excellent grades – because you’re smart. I don’t think you had to put a lot of effort into those excellent grades. You grew up Catholic and your parents were probably pretty conservative and you fancied yourself a liberated woman. And… were you a cheerleader?”
Sharon chuckled. “I sometimes forget that you were trained by the CIA.”
“Did I nail it?” Brenda grinned.
“Yeah. Of course you did.” Sharon nodded. “I was a cheerleader for all four years. And I was and am a liberated woman – drove my mother more than a little crazy.”
“We probably wouldn’t have been friends in high school.”
“We weren’t really friends as adults either.” Sharon reminded, “not until we were forced to get to know each other.”
Brenda lifted Sharon’s arm, sliding underneath and snuggling close. “I’m glad we’ve gotten to know each other.”
“Me too.” Sharon smiled.
“Sorry I’ve been talking through the whole beginning of the movie.”
Sharon laughed. “It’s okay. It’s been a while but I have seen it before.”
“I’ll be quiet now.” Brenda promised.
No sooner had Brenda pledged her silence than the power winked out, throwing the house into darkness. Sharon shifted, sitting up and feeling around for her phone. She pressed the button, illuminating the screen and pointing it at Brenda. “Well, you jinxed it.”
“I usually do.”
“I think there are some candles in the kitchen.”
Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen
Sharon walked down the hallway carrying the two candles she’d lit, followed by Brenda with her own candle. Sharon set her candles down on the bureau and turned as Brenda set hers down on the bedside table.
She smiled warmly at the blonde. “You know… this is actually pretty romantic…”
Brenda smiled. Sharon cupped her cheek and drew her in for a deep, languid kiss. Brenda mmmed against her and Sharon pulled her down on the bed, tugging on the blonde until she was pressing tightly between her legs. Sharon hooked one of her legs around Brenda’s, lifting her hips and pushing her pelvis against Brenda’s thigh as the kiss deepened.
Sharon’s questing hands plunged underneath Brenda’s shirt from the back and unhooked her bra, feeling her breasts fall free.
Brenda lifted her torso, ab muscles tightening to hold her steady as she stripped off her top without support with an ease that Sharon envied, even as she pulled the black bra away from her frame. Sharon’s fingernails raked lightly over Brenda’s back, pulling her back down.
Brenda broke the kiss, panting slightly. “I just want to make sure…” Brenda whispered.
“Yes.” Sharon nodded, “I’m ready; I want you so badly.”
Brenda grinned hugely, “let’s see what we can do about that…” Her hand slipped under the waist of Sharon’s pants and into her underwear. Sharon let out a shaky breath as Brenda’s fingers slid into wet curls.
“Mmm…” Brenda buried her face in Sharon’s neck. “You are so wet.”
Sharon bucked involuntarily against Brenda’s hand. Brenda’s fingers teased slick folds, coating the digits thoroughly before drawing them slowly up to press solidly on Sharon’s clit. Sharon whimpered, feeling herself getting even wetter.
Brenda disentangled herself and Sharon looked momentarily stricken. “If we’re doin’ this, we’re doin’ it right.” She grinned. She slipped out of her skirt and pulled down her underwear, revealing her nakedness to Sharon. “Your turn.”
“Gladly.” Sharon made quick work of her clothes and once she too was naked, she pounced on the blonde. Sharon covered Brenda’s body with her own and Brenda’s fingers returned to the apex of Sharon’s thighs. She made tight circles, starting out slow and getting quicker in time with Sharon’s desperate writhing. In mere minutes, Sharon clutched the sheets with white knuckles, murmuring what sounded like gibberish – delirious, pleasure-drenched gibberish.
Sharon panted, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. Her eyes had watered and she smudged mascara across her flushed cheeks. Brenda used her thumbs to gently rub away the black makeup.
“That was just a warm up.” Brenda announced. “You were so tense; I thought it would do you good.”
“You have no idea…” Sharon agreed.
Brenda leaned over her, reaching for a tissue on the bedside table. Sharon took advantage of the position and cupped Brenda’s breasts, lavishing attention to each nipple. Hands on Brenda’s ass, she pushed, encouraging her to straddle her.
Brenda obliged, taking hold of the headboard. Sharon leaned close, drawing her tongue along Brenda’s wetness. Her tongue moved slowly over the slick skin, sliding up to Brenda’s clit. A single tongue flick made Brenda gasp.
“Jesus.” Brenda breathed out.
Sharon grinned. This time her tongue swirled around Brenda’s clit, making tight circles.
“You’ve never done this before?” Brenda panted, leaning her head against the wall and attempting to hold off her orgasm a little longer.
Sharon’s lips latched on Brenda’s clit, sucking softly and Brenda whimpered.
“Jesus… fuck!” She cried out as she felt the pleasure quake through her. Sharon’s efforts continued and Brenda almost screamed as a second orgasm slammed into her.
“Mercy!” Brenda gasped, muscles twitching. “Mercy, mercy!”
Sharon released her and Brenda carefully extracted herself, her legs shaking as she dropped down onto the bed. “Holy shit, woman.”
“I may or may not have spent some time on google the last couple weeks…” Sharon grinned, propping herself up on her elbow.
“Whatever works because… oh my god.” Brenda covered Sharon’s upper body with her own, hovering over her. “You’re amazing.”
Sharon cupped her cheeks and pulled the blonde down for a bruising kiss. Brenda broke the kiss breathlessly, “do you want me to use your vibrator on you?”
Sharon flushed bright red. “How do you know about my vibrator?”
Brenda laughed and then realized that Sharon was serious. She furrowed her brow. “We… we share the bathroom. You keep it under the sink. I didn’t know it was a secret?”
“I mean, I guess it isn’t.” Sharon said self-consciously.
“Hey, you don’t have to feel weird about it, Sharon.” Brenda soothed, fingers rubbing her shoulder gently.
“Okay.” Brenda smiled indulgently. “Would you like me to use it on you?”
“Okay,” Sharon bit her lip on a smile. “Yes, I’d like that.”
Brenda stole a kiss as she jumped up and scooted off to the bathroom. She emerged with the vibrator with a grin and clicked the on-switch. When it failed to vibrate she looked at it in surprise and gave it a shake. “You didn’t put batteries in it?”
“Put batteries in my secret vibrator that I use on myself when I wake up in the middle of the night after intense sex dreams?” Sharon propped herself up. “No.”
“Okay. There are batteries in the kitchen.” Brenda picked up one of the candles. “I’ll be right back.”
“You don’t have to. I use it like it is.”
“I’ll be back in two shakes.” Brenda insisted. “It’ll be worth it. I promise.”
Sharon grinned, watching Brenda step tentatively into the pitch dark hallway. Left with only the one candle, Sharon was cast into relative darkness. She picked up her phone from the bedside table. After scrolling for a few moments she pressed play and Mammia Mia started playing.
Brenda returned with the second half of the light and a newly batteried sex toy. “I like your music selection.” She set the candle down and slid onto the bed, covering Sharon’s body with her own.
“There’s no WIFI or LTE, so I was limited to what was downloaded to my phone already.” Sharon grinned. “This is my running mix.”
Brenda ran the head of the toy down Sharon’s torso, teasing her opening. “Is it all ABBA?”
Sharon bit her lip against a moan. “Mostly.”
“You know you’re probably going to start getting hot and bother while you run now, right?” Brenda teased as she slid the toy down the inside of one thigh and up the other.
“That’s okay…” Sharon said, her thighs quivering.
Brenda’s fingers spread Sharon’s lips and moved up to press gently against her clit. She brought the toy up to Sharon’s opening and slid just the head into her.
“Oh, fuck.” Sharon reached behind her to grab the headboard.
Brenda pulled it out and dipped the head back in. She repeated this until Sharon’s muscles started to quake; Sharon lifted her hips, desperate for more. Brenda’s pace quickened, starting to thrust the toy in deeper, but still holding back.
Sharon whimpered, feeling her orgasm building but just out of reach. “Brenda…”
“You want to come?” Brenda purred.
“Please…” Sharon arched her back, trying to get the toy deeper.
“Well, since you asked so nicely…” Brenda pushed the toy in as deep as it would go. Sharon arched her back, panting as her body pulsed with orgasm. Brenda switched the vibrator on and Sharon’s eyes shot open.
“Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Sharon gripped the sheets, sitting up.
Brenda raised an eyebrow. “Do you want me to stop?”
“Holy fuck, no.” Sharon wrapped her legs around Brenda, holding her tightly. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…”
Brenda grinned, burying her face in Sharon’s neck, continuing her ministrations while Sharon whimpered and cursed. Sharon’s whole body quaked, the sounds emanating from the brunette were incoherent low whines and panted moans.
“Fffffuck!” She cried out, pushing shakily at Brenda. “Okay, okay, done, please… oh fuck…”
Brenda slid the toy out of Sharon, drawing out one last gasp and shutting it off. “Sharon, are you crying?”
Sharon reached up and touched her cheeks, looking at the moisture she’d found there. “Yes?” She panted. “Jesus. Fuck. I think my eyes crossed so hard it woke up my tear ducts.”
Brenda laughed, dropping down next to the other woman. “I take it you enjoyed yourself?”
Sharon flipped them, pinning Brenda to the bed, grinning mischievously.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Sharon stood in front of the stove, humming absently as she flipped a pancake. Brenda approached, pressing against Sharon, hands snaking around and smoothing down over bare thighs.
Sharon mmed, tilting her head to the side and Brenda’s lips descended on Sharon’s neck. She bit her lip, letting out a shaking “Brenda…”
“G’morning.” Brenda grinned against the sensitive skin. “You’re a little bit of a wild woman.”
“I… have never felt that good.” Sharon admitted. “If I had known…”
“You wouldn’t have resisted me for so long?” Brenda teased.
Sharon smiled, content to let that stand as the end to her thought. “In the mood for pancakes?”
“Always.” Brenda wrapped her arms around Sharon’s waist and hugged her tightly. “I smell bacon but I don’t see bacon.”
“It’s in the oven.” Sharon said, “it gets crispier in there.”
“I’m so glad I married a woman who can cook.” Brenda said playfully and Sharon felt a slight pang but she pushed it down. “Want me to make coffee?”
“Yes, please.” Sharon nodded, plating the latest batch of pancakes and spooning more batter onto the heated skillet.
Rusty emerged from the bathroom, almost running into Zach.
“You look like you’re ready to bolt.” Zach furrowed his brow.
“I just put my clothes on… and brushed my hair?”
“Dude, be real with me, please?” Zach sighed.
Rusty shoved his hands into his pockets. “My mom’s picking me up when the roads are clear.”
“Why are you always running away?” Zach asked defeatedly. “Like, dude, I thought you were my friend; I thought you liked me.”
“I am! I do!” Rusty snapped. “I just… I’m not… good at being close to people. The more I like someone the more I get hurt and… maybe it’s stupid because I’m hurt anyway…”
Zach put his hand on Rusty’s shoulder. “Why do you think I’m going to hurt you?”
“We’re… My mom’s only here on a year-long assignment and then we’re going back to… the west coast.”
“Dude,” Zach put his hands on Rusty’s shoulders. “You know that, like, cells and facetime and airplanes exist, right? Plus college? I’m not sticking around Vermont forever. Bernie Sanders or no, I wanna go see other places too.”
“So, what if we just see where it goes and then when your moms have to go back, we can talk about maybe applying to the same colleges then or whatever.”
“Holden, your mother is here.” Mrs. Pearson called from the other room.
“I’ll walk you out.” Zach whispered.
Rusty slung his backpack over his shoulder and walked down the hallway to the living room where Sharon was standing with Connie Pearson. “Did the power go out here?” He heard Sharon ask.
“It flickered.” Connie said, “but we bought a professional grade generator after the ice storms a couple years ago. I take it you lost power?”
Sharon nodded, “but it was just about bedtime anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal and it came back on sometime during the night.”
“Hey mom.” Rusty gave a little wave as he walked up to her.
She smiled at him and he smiled back, feeling a little more himself. “Hey you. Ready to go?”
“Thanks again for letting Holden stay the night.”
“He’s welcome anytime.” Connie smiled. “Don’t be a stranger, Holden. And I’d love to have you and Georgia over dinner sometime too.”
Sharon and Rusty stepped outside and Zach stepped out behind him. Rusty glanced at Zach and said, “can we have a second?”
“Of course.” She smiled, “I’ll warm up the car.”
Rusty waited until Sharon had gotten into the SUV before he turned to face Zach. Zach smiled, leaning closer and whispering, “I’m in if you’re in.”
“What about Cody?”
“It was honestly just a couple dates and we didn’t really click.” Zach admitted, “it’s already over.”
“That’s not what you said last night.”
“My feelings were hurt last night.” Zach shrugged, “I didn’t want you to know that you held all the cards.”
“I don’t think I hold all the cards.” Rusty laughed, “I mean, I’m happy to have half and you can have the other half?”
“Sounds like a fair deal.” He bit his lip and whispered, “can I kiss you?”
Holding his breath, Rusty nodded. Zach cupped Rusty’s cheeks and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. Rusty smiled broadly. “I’ll call you later?”
“Cool.” Zach grinned.
Rusty climbed into the passenger seat and buckled his belt wordlessly. Sharon put the vehicle into gear and pulled out cautiously into the still slick road.
“So…” Sharon smiled.
“So?” Rusty shrugged.
“I seem to recall someone protesting that he and Zach were ‘just friends.’” Sharon teased. “Do you want to talk about the kiss?”
“Do you want to talk about that gigantic hickey on your neck?”
Sharon paused for a moment. “You know what? I enjoyed a lovely evening with Brenda last night and I don’t care who knows it. I mean, maybe for propriety’s sake, I’ll put some concealer on this…” she craned her neck to see it better in the mirror. “Before going out into public again.”
“I’ve been waiting for you to say that.”
“That I should use more concealer?” Sharon raised an eyebrow.
“That you don’t care who knows. That you’re with Brenda.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sharon… I went to that school you sent Emily and Ricky to. I’m sure you went to Catholic school. Sometimes you go to services. You don’t walk away from all that baggage and just take up with a woman and be chill with it right away.” Rusty insisted.
“It’s called mass – not services.” Sharon began. “And I wouldn’t classify what I’ve done with Brenda as ‘taking up with her.’ And I am… mostly ‘chill.’ I’m a feminist and an ally. I don’t have baggage.”
“A feminist and an ally who
“I can go to church and be a - ” Sharon stopped, flustered. “Feminists and allies can go to church. And, honestly, being Catholic doesn’t preclude a person from being other things. And it’s a little closed-minded to assume that everyone who is one thing has to be a prescribed set of other things, too.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” Rusty sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“No, Rusty, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be defensive.”
“No, really. I… I get it.” Rusty slumped in his seat. “I’m just glad that Brenda makes you happy. I want you to be happy.”
“That’s all I want for you too.” Sharon turned and smiled at him. She reached over and cupped his cheek, stroking her thumb once across his cheekbone. “Your happiness is paramount to me.”
Rusty smiled, putting his hand over her hand and giving it a squeeze.
Brenda looked up from the table when Rusty opened the front door. “Hey kid, it’s just you and me for dinner tonight. I know you prefer pizza but can we do Chinese?”
“Sure.” Rusty dropped his backpack by the coats. “Where’s Sharon?”
“She went to church apparently.” Brenda shrugged.
“Church?” He furrowed his brow. “It’s Wednesday.”
“Tell that to the Catholics.” Brenda chuckled.
The service ended and the organ music came to its end and Sharon waited for the pews to empty out. She stood up and picked up her coat, laying it over her arm and getting in at the end of the line of people filing out and shaking the priest’s hand.
Sharon advanced in line until she stood in front of the priest. “Thank you, father. It was a moving sermon.” She held out her hand.
“I’m so glad it spoke to you.” The priest clasped her hand in both of his. “Thank you. And it’s always lovely to see a new face. Are you new to the area?”
“Yes.” Sharon smiled. “Relatively new.”
“Allow me to introduce myself officially then. Father Flannery.”
Sharon hesitated momentarily. “Rose Murray.”
“Nice to meet you officially, Rose.” Father Flannery smiled. “Was there something in particular that brought you in today? I have some time if you’d like to give confession?”
Brenda was on the couch when Sharon came in, bundled up against the cold. She looked over, “how was the service?”
Sharon hung up her coat and her hat and walked over to the couch with Brenda. “It was good.” She pulled herself up close to Brenda, her feet tucked up. Brenda wrapped an arm around Sharon, tugging her close with a smile. “And Catholics call it mass.”
“Rusty and I got Chinese food, there are leftovers in the fridge.”
“Thank you.” Sharon nuzzled her head into Brenda’s shoulder. “I’m good right here for now.”
Brenda kissed Sharon’s temple and then laid her head against Sharon’s. “Good.” She whispered. “Me too.”
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
“Watch your back! Watch your back!” Rusty objected, furiously pressing buttons on his controller, sitting on the floor in front of the couch, leaning toward the TV intently.
“I got it! Chill out.” Erica chuckled, blasting the zombie Nazis trailing behind her, leaning back relaxed against the couch.
Rusty let out a huff of frustration when his player rounded a corner and into an ambush. He set his controller down and folded his arms. Erica nudged his shoulder with her foot. “Which one of us is distracted, hm?”
“Did you just touch me with your foot?” Rusty turned around.
“Yup.” She grinned, extending her foot again.
“Gross.” He laughed, swatting her away. “I thought the point of being friends with girls was not having to put up with the gross stuff.”
“I find that sexist.” Erica teased. “I mean, if you want to have tea parties instead of playing Call of Duty, you could probably be friends with a girl who will never touch you with her feet.”
“Fair enough.” He dropped down onto the couch next to her.
She looked at him pointedly. He shrugged. “What?”
“You’re just going to leave me completely hanging, aren’t you?” She feigned shock and hurt. “You got stuck at Zach’s during the snow storm and you slept together.”
“In the same bed.” Rusty corrected. “We didn’t sleep together.”
“But you kissed the next morning.”
“Where are you getting this information?” He blinked.
“I have my ways…” Erica said cryptically before she gave Rusty a playful shrug. “Dude, I’ve been friends with Zach since third grade. He told me you guys are going to try dating. So congratulations are in order!”
“It’s, like… not even a big deal.” Rusty tried to shrug disinterestedly but was unable to hold back his grin. “Okay, it’s kind of exciting.”
“Oooh, you know what we should do?” Erica bounced excitedly.
“What?” He asked skeptically.
“College visits road trip!” She grinned. “Time honored senior tradition. You, me, and Zach!”
“Oh, I don’t know… my mom is kind of protective.”
“You have two moms. You gotta work them.” Erica insisted. “You have to sell the less protective parent on the idea and then basically make them advocate for you like it was their idea. It’s simple. I do it to my parents all the time. My dad is such a push over but my mom never wants me to do anything. I think she’s like that because she’s a doctor and she’s seen some shit, you know? But my dad always manages to talk her into it. How about I get my parents to agree first and then you work on Georgia and then Rose will have to say yes.”
“You think it’ll work? Really?”
“It’s our education. How could they even argue with that?”
Brenda looked up from her grading, brow furrowed as far as it could go. She scoffed. “You think that Sharon’s going to sign off on you going on a road trip with your boyfriend for a week and just go party at colleges?”
“It’s not just with Zach, it’s with Erica too.” Rusty insisted. “And it’s not to go party, it’s going to see colleges.”
Brenda scoffed again. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“I’m interested in institutions of higher learning.” Rusty continued.
The front door opened and Rusty glanced at the clock – he’d thought he’d have more time to wear Brenda down before Sharon got home. He chewed the inside of his lip nervously.
“I feel like I’ve walked into the middle of something.” Sharon observed, hanging up her coat and pulling off her gloves. “Everything okay?”
“Go ahead, give your pitch to Sharon.” Brenda encouraged slyly.
“Erica and Zach and I want to do a college road trip during the week long break before Christmas.” He said. “It’s enough time to see three colleges, and we’re going to split gas and Erica’s car is practically brand new and it’s up to date on inspection and oil changes and we’ll be responsible.”
Sharon considered this for a moment. “Brenda and I will discuss it, okay?”
Rusty’s face lit up. “For real? Like, you’re not just saying you’re going to talk about it?”
“Yes, ‘for real.’” Sharon smiled. “We’ll discuss it.”
“Sweet, I’ll leave you to it, then.” He grinned. “I have some homework to do.”
Sharon set a bottle of Chardonnay on the counter as Rusty disappeared down the hallway. She opened the drawer for a corkscrew.
“You’re not seriously considering this absurd proposition?” Brenda turned to face the usually level headed older woman.
“Because since when is a college visit road trip not an excuse to party with college students?”
Sharon poured herself a glass. “He can party with college students here in Burlington. Saying no to the road trip doesn’t mean he won’t party at all. Do you want a glass?”
“Sure.” She nodded. “So you think it’s no big deal to let him spend a week with his boyfriend?”
“His boyfriend and his best friend. He’s not going to abandon Erica. He’s got integrity.” Sharon set a glass down in front of Brenda and sat at the table next to her. “What are you worried about? That they’ll have sex?”
Brenda shrugged helplessly. “Sex… drugs… alcohol?”
“Rusty is a very responsible kid. When you were young, did your parents not allowing you to do things ever actually stop you?” Sharon asked pointedly.
“No, but… but there’s a difference between not being able to stop it and openly encouraging me.”
“I wouldn’t be openly encouraging anything other than visiting colleges.” Sharon continued. “There is such a thing as trusting your children. It really goes a very long way to having responsible children.”
“Did your parents trust you?”
“No, and that’s how I ended up with a pregnancy scare senior year of high school. They didn’t trust me so I never even considered going to them for my contraceptive needs. Even if I had gone to them, the Pope didn’t support contraceptives and I probably would have ended up in church counseling. The more trust and freedom you give your children, the more responsible they have the opportunity to be.”
Brenda was at a loss. “I mean, I don’t have kids. And you managed to raise two of your own from babies to adulthood and by all accounts they’re normal and well adjusted and you have a good relationship with them, so… you must be doing something right. If you think that this is the right thing to do, then… okay.”
“I just think that it’s important for him to feel like a normal teenager. He’s had so many disadvantages; this is the first time in his life he’s ever really been able to be a kid.” Sharon shrugged. “I just want him to get to be a kid for a while.”
Brenda nodded. “Sometimes I forget all the things he’s been through.” She sighed a little. “Okay.”
“Shall we go tell him he has our blessing?” Sharon asked.
“Let him stew a bit longer.” Brenda took a swig of her wine.
Sharon knocked on Rusty’s door and opened it. He looked up at her expectantly and she began slowly, “so, Brenda and I talked about it…”
Rusty leaned forward, desperate for her to continue.
“You have to check in with us every day, we want to know your itinerary, and we want the name of every place you’re going to be staying.”
Rusty jumped up and wrapped his arms around her. “Sharon, are you kidding me? Oh my god, thank you.”
“And the trip is still about a month away and we also need to not see a dip in your grades, okay?”
“Yeah, totally. Of course!” He grinned.
She gave him a squeeze and a smile. “I love you, Rusty.”
“I love you, Sharon.”
“I’m going to make dinner now, it’ll be ready in about forty minutes, okay?”
He nodded, “sounds good.”
Sharon closed his door behind her and he picked up his cell phone. He texted Erica [Guess who has permission for the college trip]
[Are you fucking kidding me? It’s a Christmas miracle!]
[I know, right?] He chuckled. [Georgia was dead set against it and Rose swooped in to save the day]
[Plot twist, what’s that about?]
[I try not to look a gift horse in the mouth] Rusty admitted. [Just glad that Georgia defers to Rose] He started typing and then backspaced back to mouth. There was no way to explain why it made sense that Brenda would defer to Sharon, without explaining that Sharon is actually a mom and Brenda isn’t.
[Maybe Rose can talk to my parents…]
Rusty thought about it for a moment, [if it comes to it probably. She’s very persuasive] He stopped to wonder if she would be as persuasive without the badge. Probably, he thought, but maybe not quite as much.
Brenda was in bed with her book when Sharon emerged from the bathroom, applying lotion to her arms and walking up to her bureau.
Brenda set her book down and set her glasses on top of it. “Can we talk?”
Sharon pulled on her nightgown and furrowed her brow. “Yeah… of course. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t want to just defer to you on things about Rusty.” Brenda admitted. “I know that I’ve never had kids and I’m not Rusty’s adoptive parent, but I am one of his legal guardians right now and I care about how well-being and what he’s doing and who he’s hanging out with and where he goes. I don’t want the answer when we disagree about something to default to your opinion.”
“Okay.” Sharon sat down on the bed. “I’m sorry if it felt like I glossed over your concerns. You know, Jackson wasn’t around very much and when he was he wasn’t really that interested in Ricky and Emily’s basic needs, so it was up to me to make most decisions.”
“No, I get that.” Brenda insisted. “And when we were first here, you know, I was happy to just let you decide but I’m in this. We’re an actual family and I want to make sure everyone knows I want to be an equal part of it going forward.”
“You’re not upset at me?” Brenda chewed her lip.
“I’ve never been happier.” Sharon admitted, smiling ever wider. “It might take a little adjustment, there’ll be a learning curve, but I’m so pleased and excited. I’ve never really been a parent with a partner. I’m looking forward to it.”
Brenda cupped Sharon’s cheeks and pulled her in for a kiss. Sharon leaned over, allowing Brenda to push her back against the mattress. The book fell from Brenda’s lap to the floor as Brenda pushed a thigh firmly between Sharon’s legs.
“You just got all clean…” Brenda purred. “I’d hate to dirty you up…”
“Dirty away.” Sharon grinned, hiking up her nightgown. “Life is short.”
Brenda’s lips descended on Sharon’s neck. It occurred to Sharon to caution the blonde against leaving another hickey but when Brenda’s lips attached to her pulse point, all coherent thought ebbed away.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
It's short but there's more to come!
Brenda/Sharon Advent Day 3!
Rusty slung his backpack over his shoulder, walking down the walkway. Brenda and Sharon emerged, following behind.
Erica got out of the car and opened the hatch. “Good morning, Mrs. Murrays.” She smiled.
Sharon chuckled. “Good morning, Ms. Munoz.”
Rusty put his backpack in the trunk, Zach getting out of passenger seat to help him move some stuff around.
“Hi Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Murray.”
Sharon chuckled. “You can call us Rose and Georgia, Erica just likes to collectively call us ‘Mrs. Murrays.’”
“It’s alliterative. At the beginning and the end!” Erica shrugged with a grin. “I love alliteration.”
“Nerd.” Rusty teased playfully.
“Come here, kid.” Brenda motioned Rusty forward and he took a few tentative steps toward her. She spread her arms wide and pulled him into a bear hug.
“Br-” Rusty began and froze for a moment. “Breathing. I need to breathe.”
Brenda squeezed tighter, rocking him. “I’m gonna miss you.”
He looked over at Sharon helplessly. “Can you do something, please?”
Sharon didn’t look up from her phone. “Georgie, you’ve got twenty more seconds.”
Rusty opened his mouth in confusion and Brenda pulled back slightly, kissing his cheek with loud smacking sounds.
“Time.” Sharon announced looking up.
Brenda released Rusty and he took a step back. “What was that for?”
“Georgia’s condition for letting you go. She got to be embarrassing for a full minute.” Sharon grinned.
“And you just let her torture me?” He asked playfully. “Some mother you are.”
Sharon pulled him into a hug and gave him a squeeze before letting go. “Have a good time. Be safe. Make good choices. Check in with me every day.”
“I will.” He smiled. “Thanks, mom. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“One last thing, buddy.”
“Yeah?” He turned to Brenda. She reached into her pocket and handed him a napkin.
“A napkin? Wow. You shouldn’t have…”
“It’s to wipe your face. I put on extra lipstick.”
“Ugh.” He wiped at his face.
Zach chuckled, “here, give me the napkin, you’re making it worse.”
“Thanks…” Rusty smiled embarrassedly.
Zach wiped the lipstick away. “My mom tried to give me a whole meatloaf for the road. Talk about embarrassing. Thank goodness it was only Erica there – she knows my mom is ridiculous. There.” He shoved the napkin into his pocket.
“Okay.” Rusty nodded. He turned and gave a wave to Sharon and Brenda before he got into Erica’s SUV. Erica waved as she pulled out of the driveway.
Sharon and Brenda waved back and watched the SUV fade into the distance. Sharon turned to Brenda. “Let’s get dinner and go dancing.”
Sharon gave Brenda a gentle squeeze, her naked body pressed against Brenda’s back. She dropped a kiss to the blonde’s shoulder, nuzzling closer.
Brenda smiled warmly, holding the older woman’s hands tightly against her chest. “I’m loving this side of you.” She murmured. “I always liked the staunch Captain Raydor side too - ”
Sharon scoffed, grinning against the bare shoulder.
“Okay, well, I respected that side of you, it just bugged me when you were resistant to my charms.”
“Boy, gone are those days.” Sharon teased.
Brenda turned around in Sharon’s arms to face the other woman. Brenda’s fingers dipped into lush brown hair. “I just…” she started. “I really… I want you to know that…”
Sharon smiled. “It’s not like you to be at a loss for words.”
Brenda huffed playfully. “I’m just trying to say that I’m happy.”
Sharon ghosted the pad of her thumb over Brenda’s cheekbone. “I’m happy too.”
Brenda nuzzled Sharon’s neck. “What do you want to do for dinner?”
“I don’t know. Chinese?” Sharon smiled.
Brenda grinned. “You want your usual?”
Brenda stole a kiss and slid out from under the covers and picked up Sharon’s sweater, pulling it on. Sharon watched her with a smile. Brenda gave a little shrug and a smile. “It smells like you.”
Sharon chuckled, watching Brenda disappear down the hallway, excitement over Chinese food getting the better of her. Chinese food and Merlot were the few personal preferences that the marshals hadn’t strongly discouraged. Brenda finished giving the usual order – minus Rusty’s beef and broccoli – as Sharon padded down the hallway wearing a fluffy sweater and a pair of black yoga pants. Brenda watched her sashay coquettishly and spoke into the phone, “what? No, that’s all, thanks.”
“So, what are we going to do with a whole week by ourselves?” Sharon asked wistfully, leaning against the counter.
“What am I going to do? You have to work.” Brenda bemoaned.
“Oh! I didn’t tell you?” Sharon sat up abruptly, startling Brenda slightly. “I’m off until New Years. I’m way ahead on my work and I get vacation so I decided this would be as good a time as any.”
“Let’s get out of town then. There’s gotta be some cute cabins around here with a fireplace and big fluffy rugs…”
“And skiing.” Sharon grinned.
“Can it mostly be sitting by the fire and a little bit of skiing if there’s time?” Brenda asked skeptically.
Sharon reached out and grabbed Brenda by the wrist and tugged her close. “As long as you’re with me, we can do anything.”
“Way to lay on the guilt. Fine. We’ll go skiing.” Brenda draped her arms over Sharon’s shoulders.
“Hey, mom.” Rusty said into the phone, one finger shoved into his ear while the rest of the group continued chatting. “We arrived at Middlebury.”
“Oh good. How’s your first road trip going so far? Is it everything you dreamed of?” Sharon smiled.
“It’s… I mean, it’s nice hanging out with my friends so much but it’s a lot of time in the car.” Rusty admitted.
“Well, you’ll be out of the car for a while. That’s the good part of road trips, you have time in between the driving to see new and exciting places.”
Rusty nodded. Sharon didn’t have to see him to know exactly the begrudgingly agreeable nod.
“Have fun and be safe. Take care of yourself and take care of your friends too – be a second set of eyes for Erica, please don’t leave any parties without her.”
“I won’t. I’ll be safe and I’ll keep an eye on Zach and Erica too.” He cleared his throat. “If it comes up, I’m gonna be DD anyway.”
“A very noble thing to do indeed.” Sharon agreed. “Brenda and I got Chinese for dinner and now we’re looking at some ski cabins.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“But we’ll still be reachable by phone so you still have to call me every day.” She insisted lightheartedly.
“I will, I will.” Rusty smiled. “I gotta go or I’m about to lose sight of Zach and Erica.”
“I love you. Have fun.”
“Love you.” Rusty responded and hung up the phone.
Erica waved him over. “My cousin’s still in class but he said that his roommates can let us in to drop our stuff and hang out.”
“Cool.” Rusty nodded.
“How’s Rose? She freaking yet?”
“Nah, she’s good.” He shook his head. “She and Georgia are gonna go on a little vacation too, I guess.”
“Good for them.”
Brenda lounged across the king sized bed, snuggling down into the covers. “Sharon, come back.” She called sleepily.
“I’m coming.” Sharon walked up the fluffy-carpeted steps and getting back under the covers. The bed was in a loft which overlooked the small cabin – obviously built during the tiny house craze but very well suited to vacation rentals. “I got a text from Rusty. They made it to Plattsburg.”
“Isn’t that the last one they were going to?” Brenda frowned. “Has that many days gone by?”
“They didn’t like Empire State so they moved on quicker.” Sharon explained. “Rub my arms, I’m freezing.”
Brenda drew her closer with her warm body and rubbed Sharon’s chilled limbs.
“Are they coming home early? Do we have to go?” Brenda frowned.
“He says they’re not coming home early.” Sharon chuckled, “we’re not going anywhere until Friday morning as planned. We didn’t even get to go skiing yet.”
“Oh, well…” Brenda shrugged noncommittally. “I guess that’s technically true…”
“I’ll be your ski instructor…” Sharon insisted, coquettishly batting her eyelashes.
“Ugh. Why are you so beautiful?” Brenda grabbed a fistful of Sharon’s hair and pulled her close.
“Because it’s an evolutionarily adaptive trait.” Sharon purred as she closed the distance between them and captured Brenda’s lips hungrily.
“Smartass.” Brenda teased as her lips trailed down Sharon’s neck and Sharon craned it appreciatively. “And you don’t have to go to work for days and it’s scarf weather outside, so I am going to give you a gigantic hickey.”
Sharon whimpered as Brenda’s lips latched onto the lightly freckled skin, sucking hard, licking soothingly, and nipping enticingly. Sharon’s fist tightened in Brenda’s hair, her other hand dragging short but strong fingernails up Brenda’s back.
Brenda released her neck and Sharon’s body slumped slightly. Brenda traced the dark purple bruise with her finger, making Sharon shudder pleasantly. “This mean’s you’re mine.”
“Uh-huh. All yours.” Sharon agreed helplessly.
Brenda took Sharon’s arms and pinned them up above her head. “Tell me how badly you want me.” Brenda purred.
“I want you, I want you!” Sharon squirmed.
Brenda captured her lips and hooked a leg over the other woman, pressing her center against Sharon’s thigh. Sharon panted, clutching at her and bucking her hips impatiently. Brenda shifted, shoving her thigh in between Sharon’s legs; Sharon rocked against her, dragging herself along Brenda’s heated skin.
Brenda’s hand travelled down Sharon’s body teasingly slowly; Sharon groaned. Brenda’s fingers slipped down, sliding through wet curls and Sharon bit her lip. Brenda made small, light circles over her clit until Sharon writhed underneath her. Brenda’s fingers pushed into Sharon and she curled upwards, pushing into the sensitive tissue.
Sharon moaned loudly, she reached down and circled her own clit while Brenda’s ministrations against her g-spot continued. Her legs were shaking, her ab muscles clenching. Brenda’s hand splayed up over Sharon’s heated skin and tweaked an erect nipple.
Sharon’s eyes shot open and she loudly exclaimed “Jesus!” before her body pulsed with orgasm.
She dropped back onto the bed, panting and sweaty, her arm draped over her eyes. “Stop it.” She murmured.
Brenda held up her hands, “what?”
Brenda chuckled, her grin widening. “I’m not.”
“I can hear you grinning.” Sharon uncovered her eyes and smiled at the blonde.
“Alright. If you want me to stop grinning, give me something else to do with my mouth.” Brenda challenged, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.
“I’m not so sure about this.” Brenda admitted as she stood at the top of the beginner slope. She looked over at Sharon, “and, frankly, it’s your fault because you know I’ll agree to anything for sex and you basically blackmailed me.”
“I think you implied that you agreed because I’m a great beauty.” Sharon mused.
“Don’t let that go to your head.” Brenda teased. “I say that to all my lovers, so…”
“Quit stalling.” Sharon gave her hip a little bump. “The instructor showed you how to position your feet and hold your poles and I’ll be with you the whole time. Ready?”
“Okay, but if I die - ”
“You won’t.” Sharon insisted. “Bend your knees and push!”
“Fine. Here goes nothing.” Brenda pushed off and glided down the slope.
Sharon grinned and pushed off, following after her. Brenda wobbled more than a little but stayed upright but Sharon would be there if she fell.
Friday had rolled around all too soon and Brenda and Sharon found themselves back in Brenda’s car and driving toward home. The speakers played Brenda’s Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits CD and was two songs away from starting over for the second time when Sharon’s phone rang.
She looked at the number and furrowed her brow.
“Who is it?” Brenda asked, turning the dial way down.
“I don’t know.” Sharon dragged the green phone to the side and put her phone to her ear. “Hello. Rose Murray.” She listened for a moment before interrupting, “whoa, whoa, slow down, buddy. You’re where?”
Brenda parked the car in a visitor spot at the US-Canada border and Sharon got out, wrapping her coat around herself, bracing against the freezing temperature and the snow that stung her cheeks painfully. She glanced over at her fuming girlfriend, surprised that she wasn’t emanating enough heat to thaw everything around her.
“I know you’re mad but when we get in there, go easy on him.” Sharon said, “I’m sure he feels badly enough.”
Brenda scoffed. “Oh, I’m not mad at him.”
Sharon furrowed her brow in confusion. “You’re mad at Erica and Zach?”
“I’m mad at you!” She snapped.
“Me?” Sharon demanded. “What for?”
“You’re the one who let him come on this stupid trip and I didn’t want him to go and now look at this mess we’re in!” Brenda fumed. “He’s been detained at the border. There’s your A plus parenting, Sharon.”
“Hey, easy with the names, ladies.” Marshal Cho admonished as he walked up. “We’ll get this sorted, come on.”
Sharon shot Brenda a frown and Brenda sneered back as Marshal Cho held the door open for them. Marshal Cho walked up to the man at reception and held out his badge. “I’m US Marshal Ben Cho and I need to speak to someone regarding Holden Murray. These are his mothers.” The receptionist looked at him skeptically. “You can tell by how mad they are right now. Help me out here, man.”
The receptionist glanced over at the two women, both of whom looked like they were ready to explode. He nodded, “yeah, give me a sec.” He picked up the phone and spoke hushedly into the receiver. He thanked the person on the other end and then hung up. “Agent Yazzie will be right with you.”
“Thanks.” Marshal Cho tapped the receptionist’s desk and then turned back to Brenda and Sharon. “Okay, seriously, you two, you need to calm down.”
“Does it usually work for you when you tell women to calm down?” Sharon smirked.
He leaned in, “I’m telling you as one law enforcement officer to two others, to chill out and pick your battles.” He looked between the two. “I don’t know what’s going on here and I don’t want to know, but as soon as I explain the situation to the Border Agent, they’ll release him and then you can go back to having your meltdown.”
Brenda held up her hands in sarcastic surrender.
“I see the look, but I’ll take it.” Marshal Cho smirked.
A buzz sounded and a door opened and Agent Yazzie motioned to Marshal Cho to follow her back. Cho turned to Brenda and Sharon. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
He disappeared down the hallway and the door closed behind him. Sharon paced. “I hate this. I hate not having my badge.”
Brenda nodded in reluctant agreement. “You believe the nerve of that man?” She scoffed. “Telling us to calm down. I’d like to hear him say that when we get our guns back.”
Brenda quickly smirked. “I’m still mad at you.”
Sharon threw her arms up in annoyance. “Do whatever you want. You always do.”
“I always do what I want to do?” Brenda demanded, anger renewed. “What exactly do you feel like you’ve compromised on lately?”
Sharon scoffed. “What do you feel like you’ve been right about recently?”
Brenda huffed angrily and grit her teeth before turning and letting out a small growl. “Oh, that woman.”
Sharon stepped closer to Brenda. “I’ve been doing this a lot longer, princess. I think I know a thing or two about this type of thing.”
Brenda threw her hands up. “There you go again. Practice does not guarantee quality.”
Sharon glanced over at the receptionist who quickly looked away. “Please, dear God, don’t involve me in this.” He mumbled to himself, trying to get smaller behind the counter.
Someone cleared their throat behind them and they turned to see Rusty. They both rushed forward and wrapped their arms around him. “I’m so glad you’re safe.” Sharon whispered in one ear while Brenda whispered “thank God, you’re okay” in the other.
“Okay, guys.” Rusty chuckled uncomfortably. “I just really want to go home, okay?”
“Yeah, of course.” Sharon cupped his head and kissed his temple and he gave her a little squeeze.
“Let’s go.” Brenda put her arm around his shoulder and led him out.
“Give me the keys.” Sharon held out her hands. “I’m driving.”
“Bite me.” Brenda snapped. “It’s my car.”
Sharon rolled her eyes. “Very mature.”
Brenda unlocked the door and got into the driver’s seat. Sharon crossed around to the other side of the car and got in. Rusty looked between the two women anxiously as he buckled his seatbelt. It was going to be a long ride and his phone had long since died.
After a very long and largely silent car ride, Brenda pulled into the driveway. Sharon got out and slammed the door, stalking up the stairs.
“Hey, I don’t want you guys to fight about me.” Rusty insisted, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know Erica--”
“We’re not fighting about you, Rusty.” Brenda assured him. “We’re fighting because Sharon’s being an ass.” Brenda got out and slammed her door behind her.
Rusty sighed. “Well, as long as we’ve got that cleared up…” Rusty hefted his bag onto his shoulder and trudged up the stairs and opened the door. Sharon was filling a glass with wine in the kitchen and Brenda was tearing into a candy bar in the living room.
“I’m just gonna go to my room…” He said cautiously.
“Wait for just a second, Rusty.” Brenda insisted and Sharon looked over.
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“You’re grounded.” Brenda put her hands on her hips.
“What? Why?” He demanded.
“Brenda, is that really necessary?” Sharon asked.
Brenda held up a hand to stop Sharon and continued addressing Rusty. “You had one job and that was to be responsible and people who are being responsible don’t get arrested!”
“I didn’t get arrested!” Rusty insisted. “And how was I supposed to know that Erica would go over the border? And she didn’t know I didn’t have a passport. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.”
“I’m not interested, kid.” Brenda shook her head. “Give me your phone.”
“Are you serious?” He scoffed.
“As a heart attack.” She snarled, holding out her hand for it.
He scoffed again and looked over at Sharon. “Are you gonna jump in here or what?”
“No, she’s not because we did it her way and look where that got us.” Brenda frowned. “Phone. Now.”
He felt his eyes start to water and he pursed his lips angrily as he pushed the phone into her hand. “You’re not even my mom.” He grumbled.
Tears stung Brenda’s eyes as she shrugged, biting her lip against it wobbling. “Go to your room.”
He stalked down the hallway and slammed his door. Brenda sniffled and wiped at her eyes with annoyance. “Don’t look at me.” She snapped at Sharon before storming down the hallway and slamming her own bedroom door.
Sharon stared into the now empty living room, blinking in shock for a few minutes before bringing the glass of wine to her lips and taking a big swig. Sharon walked down the hallway and looked at the doors: behind one was her very angry girlfriend and behind the other was her very frustrated son. She thought about it long and hard before turning and opening the door to her office and closing it behind her.
She’d deal with them both after everyone had a night to cool off.
“Sharon.” A hand reached out and grabbed her shoulder. “Sharon.”
Sharon startled awake, sitting bolt upright. “What? What’s wrong?” She demanded, looking around.
“You need to talk to Brenda, she’s being insane.” He insisted. “She took my phone away for nothing. I wasn’t driving the car. I was taking a nap and Erica didn’t know I didn’t have a passport because I told them I’d been to Mexico. But I went as me not as Holden. It was just a misunderstanding.”
“Brenda is in no mood to hear from me.” Sharon chuckled sardonically, pulling on her pumps.
“Oh. Okay, Jackson.” Rusty held up his hands.
“Wow, that was… uncalled for.” Sharon frowned.
“Oh yeah? Because from where I’m standing you’re waking up on the couch, wearing the clothes from the night before because you’re avoiding your woman after a fight about discipline.” Rusty folded his arms across his chest.
“You do want me on your side, don’t you?” Sharon smirked. “And you know that I was almost always in the right in those situations and that in this scenario Brenda is me, right?”
“Please talk to her!” Rusty begged.
“I’ll see what I can do but we’re co-parenting here, Rusty. For better or worse, sometimes Brenda will get her way.”
“Can’t you overrule her? You’re my mom.”
“She’s your mother too. When they placed us here, that made the two of us your legal guardians and that means that I don’t overrule anyone.” Sharon explained. “She loves you, okay? She’s doing what she thinks is right. Cut her some slack.”
“Cut her some slack?” He threw his hands up. “I can’t… I just… forget it.”
“Rusty…” Sharon sighed as Rusty retreated from her office. She sighed again, dropping back down onto the couch. “I’m batting a thousand today. Oh damn, I’m Jackson.”
She pushed herself back up off the couch. “Time to face the music.” She eased the door open and walked down the hallway. Rusty was sitting at the table, slouched in front of a bowl of cereal getting soggy out of principle. Brenda was sitting on the other side of the table with the newspaper in front of her – to the untrained eye, she appeared to be reading it but Sharon knew that she was still too keyed up to be reading.
Sharon paused for a moment to decide on the least Jackson-like thing to say or do.
She cleared her throat and announced, “I was wrong.”
Rusty and Brenda both looked to her in surprise, neither knowing what to say, so Sharon continued. “I understand that everyone is upset this morning and I think we can come to some agreement.”
Brenda huffed in annoyance.
“Brenda, I understand that you’re just as much Rusty’s parent as I am. Also, Rusty was out of line last night. I know that what he said hurt your feelings but actually that’s pretty much a parent initiation. That’s it, that’s what kids are like. When they’re upset, they poke a sharp stick into any wound they can think of and they twist it because they’re upset too and that’s a way to have some control over the situation.”
“Where’d you get your counseling degree?” Brenda smirked.
“Rusty, will you tell Brenda how you really feel? Calmly?”
“I guess I get frustrated sometimes when you and Sharon disagree on something because she and I have been together so much longer and we’ve developed a certain rapport. I guess, it’s just an adjustment.” He sighed. “I’m sorry I said you’re not my mom.”
“And, Brenda, I’m sorry that I didn’t fully understand your feelings about Rusty going on the trip. I still think it was the right decision to let him go and I would make the same decision again but I was dismissive of your feelings. I won’t to do that again.”
Brenda rubbed her eyes tiredly. “I’m sorry I yelled at you so much yesterday.”
“Which one of us?” Rusty asked.
“Both, I guess.” She sighed. “I get that Sharon is your mother. I really do, but I care about you, kid. I love you and I just want you to be safe. Grounded for a week but you get your phone back?”
“Yeah, totally! Deal!”
“Go get it. It’s sitting on the bureau in my room.” Brenda gestured down the hallway.
“Thanks, Brenda.” He grinned, “love you!”
He disappeared down the hallway and Sharon turned to the blonde. She draped her arms over Brenda’s shoulders. “Still mad at me?”
“Yes.” Brenda smirked. “But I know how you can make it up to me…”
“I’m gonna be in my room so you two can be gross in private!” Rusty called from the hallway.
“Okay, thanks, buddy.” Sharon called back. She turned back to Brenda. “Where were we? Oh, yeah,” Sharon cupped Brenda’s cheeks, fingers sliding into her hair and leaning in to capture her lips.
“I want to get the biggest tree!” Sharon announced excitedly as they pulled into the tree lot.
“Can we get a Frosty the Snowman?” Brenda grinned.
“We can even build one!” Sharon exclaimed.
“Is the kid going to be excited when he gets home and finds a tree or is he going to be upset we didn’t bring him?”
“Full disclosure, he put a moratorium on picking out Christmas trees with me because, and I quote ‘I’m monumentally annoying, and he’d rather stick pine needles through both eyes than come tree hunting with me again.’”
“That does sound like you.” Brenda agreed. “You are very annoying.”
Sharon gave Brenda a playful shove and Brenda grinned at her. Sharon shoved her gloved hands into the pockets of her parka and bumped Brenda’s shoulder with her own.
“Picking out a Christmas tree together is a pretty big step.” Sharon teased.
“Good thing we’re not already living together or this could be really awkward.” Brenda chuckled.
“Can I help you ladies with a tree today?” A man in brown Carhart overalls and steel toed shoes asked as they approached.
“Absolutely, you can!” Sharon enthused.
“What are you looking for?”
“I was thinking a fir.”
“A fir, really?” Brenda furrowed her brow.
“What were you thinking?” Sharon asked.
“I was thinking a Blue Spruce.”
“Do you want to vacuum the needles?” Sharon narrowed her eyes.
“Sir, we would like to see your finest firs.” Brenda looked to the man.
Rusty got off the bus at the end of the street and Erica walked with him to the edge of the driveway. “Just a couple more days, right? Sorry I got you in trouble.”
“It’s not your fault.” He smiled. “I’m just glad that Rose talked to Georgia about being crazy. When it’s over you’ll have to come over and do some gaming.”
“You got it.” She agreed and they fist bumped before she continued up the road.
He walked up to the door, his feet slipping on needles and he looked down. “Oh no. It’s starting.” He opened the door cautiously and the scent of fresh cut pine wafted through the space. “Christmas is here.” He drawled in the poltergeist voice.
“Rusty!” Sharon called out enthusiastically. “Doesn’t the tree look beautiful?”
“My favorite part is that you didn’t involve me in it at all.” Rusty went up to her and hugged her tightly. “It’s a Christmas miracle.”
Sharon cupped his cheek and kissed his temple.
He let her go and walked over to Brenda and smiled at her. “Can we have a Christmas truce?”
Brenda wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. “Come ‘ere.”
“Brenda, I can’t breathe!” He laughed. “Hug and release!”
“No, I’m not done yet.”
“Can Erica come over later?” He asked hopefully.
“Okay, can’t blame a guy for trying.” He patted her on the back and let her go. “I love you, Brenda.”
“I love you too, kid.” She beamed.
“I’m gonna do my homework. I’m glad Christmas threw up on the living room; it looks pretty good in here.” Rusty called as he continued down the hallway.
“Are you not ready for bed?” Sharon asked, quirking an eyebrow, watching Brenda sit down on Sharon’s side of the bed.
“I will be in a minute.” Brenda patted the spot next to her. “Sit with me a second?”
“What’s up?” Sharon furrowed her brow, sitting down.
“I thought for a long time about what to get you for Christmas and I just never found anything that felt special.” Brenda admitted. “But I stopped to ask myself what would feel special and I thought about how you make me feel. And it feels new and exciting to be with you and I feel young again, like I’m still learning all over again.”
Sharon chuckled. “I feel the same way, Brenda. Everything’s new.”
“Good. So I thought about what I would’ve done in high school…” She reached under her pillow and produced a small package and held it out to Sharon. “There’s something for you to open tomorrow morning but I wanted to give you this just the two of us.”
Sharon smiled broadly, accepting the package and tearing away the shiny green wrapping paper and held a CD case in her hand.
“You made me a mixtape.” Sharon breathed, looking down at one of the pictures Rusty had taken of the two of them at the park. The two of them looked as awkward as if they were on a first date – which they had been, in a way.
“It’s stupid. I’m sorry.” Brenda chewed her lip self-consciously.
“It’s not stupid. I love it.” She held it to her heart. “No one ever made me a mixtape.”
Brenda smiled, awash with relief. “I made a Spotify playlist too so you can listen to it while you’re running.”
Sharon captured Brenda’s lips, drawing her in for a deep, languid kiss. When they separated, breathing deeply, Sharon smiled, “I love it so much; it’s perfect.”
A gentle knock on the door roused the two women. “Breakfast in twenty.” Rusty announced.
Sharon stretched out and Brenda gave her a squeeze, pulling her closer. Sharon took Brenda’s hand and kissed it. “Rusty’s making breakfast.” Sharon said softly. “I should get dressed.”
“Mmkay.” Brenda rolled over onto her back. Sharon pulled on a pair of pyjama pants and a fluffy Christmas sweater and turned to smile adoringly at the snoozing blonde.
Sharon kissed Brenda’s forehead and smiled. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” Brenda smiled sleepily.
“Do you want me to wake you in fifteen?” Sharon whispered.
“I have an alarm.”
“For fifteen minutes from now?”
“You don’t know what time it is.”
“It’s Christmas.” She murmured.
“‘Christmas’ isn’t a time, Georgie.” Sharon chuckled softly.
“I have an alarm.” Brenda repeated insistently.
“Okay.” Sharon kissed her forehead again. “I’ll see you in fifteen then.”
Sharon padded down the hallway and smiled at Rusty who was flipping pancakes over on the griddle. She walked up to her son and wrapped her arms around him. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.” She kissed his temple.
“Merry Christmas, mom.” He smiled.
“This kitchen smells amazing. You’re so sweet.” Sharon took a seat on the stool behind the kitchen island to watch him work.
“Are you going to have your usual one pancake?” Rusty teased.
Sharon laughed. “I’ll take a short stack. It’s a special occasion.” She plucked a banana slice from a bowl and popped it into her mouth. “I’ll wake sleeping beauty in a few minutes.”
“No need.” Brenda announced, strolling into the kitchen. “I told you. I have an alarm.”
“You one hundred percent did not set an alarm!” Sharon teased.
“It’s an internal alarm. It works for: Christmas morning, when any dessert with chocolate is done baking, and when my family enters the same state as me.”
“Then I think we ticked two boxes because, Merry Christmas, Brenda, and here is the first part of your present.” Rusty handed her a plate with a stack of three fluffy, chocolate, chocolate chip pancakes, a pad of butter melting down the sides and her face lit up.
“Have I said recently how much I love this kid?” She demanded, pulling him into a tight hug.
“Mercy! Mercy!” He laughed. Once Brenda had released him, he handed Sharon a plate of her own with three regular pancakes. “There’s maple syrup and raspberry syrup and there’s fresh fruit, toffee bits, and whipped cream.”
Sharon produced a large box from the hall closet and set it down in front of Rusty. “You didn’t peek, did you?”
“I mean, I saw the box. It’s hard to miss.” He grinned, tearing at the paper and flipping open the box’s flaps. He stared down into its contents. “This is, like, so many awesome games! And a headset?”
“I hope you enjoy, sweetheart.” Sharon smiled, sitting back down with Brenda and Brenda draped an arm over Sharon’s lap comfortably.
He dug through the box, excitedly naming the games he came upon. “Some of these are the ones I play with Erica at her place – oh.”
Sharon furrowed her brow slightly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to be a downer. I just wanted to make sure you’d still be able to play with Erica even after we return to L.A.”
Rusty leaned over and hugged her. “No, it’s great. Thank you.”
She kissed the top of his head. “Of course.”
Rusty got a large envelope from under the tree and handed it to Sharon. “This is for both of you.”
Sharon stuck a fingernail under the flap and eased it open. Inside was a handmade coupon book for homemade dinners.
Brenda grinned. “Between the two of you, I’m really spoiled.” She pointed to another gift under the tree. “And what a perfect segue.”
Rusty picked it up, “I think I know what this is.” He beamed as he ripped the paper and triumphantly held The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. “I’m so stoked and you guys get to my guinea pigs.”
“Happily.” Sharon smiled.
Brenda picked up a little bag with a smiling Santa and reindeer on the side and handed it to Sharon. “I hope you like it.” She said with uncharacteristic bashfulness.
Sharon leaned in and kissed her cheek as she accepted the bag, she pulled out the tissue paper and found a little box. She pulled off the lid and found a necklace with a gold rose charm. She smiled broadly as she inspected it.
“Brenda, I love it.”
“Yes, really.” She held it out. “Would you put it on me?”
“I’m usually really bad at gifts.” Brenda draped the necklace over her and clasped it behind her neck. “Fritz always hated the things I got him. He said he liked them but the man has no poker face.”
Sharon touched the necklace. “I think it’s beautiful and sweet and thoughtful.”
“Okay, now where’s mine?” Brenda demanded, the sincerity of the moment making her uncomfortable with the swell feelings she was feeling for Sharon.
“Yours… oh no, I knew there was something I forgot to do…” Sharon groaned playfully. “Rusty, you were supposed to remind me!”
“You were supposed to remind me to remind you.” Rusty threw his hands up.
“Quit playin’!” Brenda grinned.
“It’s in the pantry.” Rusty chuckled.
“Man, what did I even get CIA training for? You cracked like an egg, kid.” Brenda laughed, jumping up and hurrying to the pantry.
Sharon sipped her coffee, waiting for Brenda’s reaction. She didn’t have long to wait before Brenda squealed in delight. She returned with one of the bottles in each hand. “My Merlot! I was told I couldn’t order it…”
“I ordered it through work as part of a whole shipment of California wines so there’s literally no way that anyone could track it to us.” Sharon smiled.
“You’re my hero. Seriously.” Brenda grinned.
“I’m assuming you’re going to open a bottle. Is it cool if I go play some games?”
Rusty stood up and wrapped his arms around Sharon. “Merry Christmas, mom, I love you.”
She ruffled his hair and kissed his temple. “I love you too.”
Rusty wrapped his arms around Brenda. “I love you. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, kid.” Brenda gave him a squeeze. “I love you.”
Rusty disappeared into his room and Sharon held her arms out to Brenda. Brenda smiled and snuggled into her arms. “I sure love Christmas.”
Sharon wrapped her arms snugly around the blonde. “Yeah, me too.” She rested her chin on Brenda’s shoulder.
Five Months Later…
Rusty stood on the stoop, pacing nervously.
“Oh, hey Holden.” Connie Pearson greeted with a smile. “Come on in.”
“I can’t really stay. Could you ask him to come out here?”
“Sure.” She disappeared back inside and Rusty sighed.
A minute later, Zach appeared, “hey.” He stepped out and wrapped him in a hug and stole a kiss before asking, “what’s up, you seem anxious?”
“I have to tell you something…” Rusty took Zach’s hands. “I have to go away for a while.”
Zach furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”
“Well, my moms’ work was always temporary and the year is up so… we have to go.”
“What do you mean go?”
“Like… back to the west coast.” Rusty admitted. “And I won’t be able to talk to you for, I don’t know, like a month.”
Zach pulled his hands back. “Are you blowing me off?”
“No. I can’t tell you what’s going on but I can tell you everything in a month… give or take.”
“This is a wicked elaborate way to break up with someone, dude.” Zach frowned. “If you don’t want to be with me anymore, just say so.”
Rusty cupped his cheeks. “Stop saying that. I’m not leaving because I want to. I don’t want to leave like this.”
“Did you tell Erica?”
“I told her I’m leaving but I didn’t tell her anything because I can’t.” He sighed. “I know you’re not convinced and I know it sounds crazy. I get it. Please, just… trust me. I will explain when I can.”
Zach sighed. “I mean… there was that weird thing that happened at the border… so I guess I can believe there’s some covert shit or whatever… I mean, Rose and Georgia seem too vanilla to be that interesting, no offense.”
Rusty smiled. “I have so much to tell you in a month. It’s gonna blow your mind.”
“I miss you already…” Zach looked down sadly.
Rusty cupped Zach’s cheek. “I’ve never been in a good relationship before you. You make me feel so safe and if there was anything I could do to stay, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Zach nuzzled his hand. “You promise you’ll at me when you can?”
“The very second I’m able to.”
Marshal Cho checked his watch and looked sidelong at the two women.
Brenda smirked. “Give him a break. He’s saying goodbye to his boyfriend.”
“There are still three hours before the flight.” Sharon agreed.
“Ladies, we’re on a schedule.” Marshal Cho folded his arms.
Sharon bit back a sigh as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I’ll call him.”
Brenda nudged her and pointed up the road. “That’s him.”
“See? Less than ten minutes late.” Sharon gestured to the approaching vehicle.
Rusty parked and got out. “Sorry.”
“Everybody in the SUV.” Marshal Cho ordered, sliding his sunglasses on and turning on his heel and marching over to the automobile.
Sharon, Brenda, and Rusty got in wordlessly. Rusty watched out the window as they pulled away from the house that was his home for almost a year and the pod full of their stuff that was going to be shipped to them. Sharon too stared out the window as the life she had built disappeared behind them; the life she and Brenda had built together. She glanced at Brenda out of the corner of her eye and Brenda’s elbow leaned against the window and her head leaned on her hand casually.
Sharon held in a rueful sigh.
The morale seemed very low in the airport, very little conversation transpired between the three of them, at least partially because they were being escorted by the Marshal and also they didn’t really know what to say to each other.
Once on the plane, Rusty put the headphones on immediately and put on an episode of Bob’s Burgers, Brenda started playing solitaire and Sharon took out a book she’d bought in the duty free shop.
At LAX, they were escorted out the back to the waiting convoy which took them immediately to the courthouse. They were able to change into court appropriate clothing and waited in a conference room.
Rusty was called in first. He walked up to the stand and made eye contact with Stroh at the defense table. He was struck by how wan Stroh looked and how much stronger he himself had become in the previous year.
After all of them had testified, Sharon was the last and the shortest, the Marshal informed them that they were free to leave. They offered to put them up in a hotel until the verdict was in but all three of them agreed that they’d rather just go back to their lives at this point.
They walked silently to the doors and as they neared the front doors, they heard someone call out to Brenda. Fritz stood up from a bench and gave a small wave. Brenda looked over at Sharon wordlessly.
“Go.” Sharon shrugged, “go back to Fritz. You put in your time. You can go back to your life now.”
Brenda opened her mouth in surprise.
“Rusty, come on.” Sharon clipped out the door.
“Sharon!” Rusty snapped, following his mother and sparing a glance back at Brenda as he followed Sharon.
A leasing company had managed the sublet of Sharon’s condo while they were gone and she wasn’t sure what she would be returning to. She opened the door and flipped on the light and it looked as spotless as she had left it. She dropped her keys on the entryway table and set her purse down and parked her wheelie suitcase.
Their clothing and a lot of other personal items they hadn’t taken with them were down in the storage areas for condos and she was too exhausted to go down that evening.
“I’m thinking we order a pizza?” She asked. “I don’t want to go out for groceries.”
"Why did you say those things to Brenda?" Rusty demanded.
Sharon scoffed. "Because this is the real world and I'm being realistic."
"That was real too, Sharon. It all actually happened.” Rusty scowled. “It was us. We were happy.”
“She wasn’t tripping over herself to disagree.” Sharon pursed her lips.
“You didn’t give her the chance!”
“Rusty!” She snapped, raising her voice. “She’s a married straight woman! She’s gone back to her husband!”
“So the last year meant nothing? That’s bullshit. You were the one who told me that just because we used different names didn’t mean that what we did wasn’t real.”
“It’s not that simple.” Sharon said softly.
“I can’t just pretend that the whole last year didn’t happen and I know you can’t either. You’re just being weird and defensive but you know you’re not just going to pretend nothing happened.” Rusty frowned. “I’m not hungry. I’m pretty tired. I’m just gonna get some sleep.”
Sharon sat at the dining room table with her pizza. She had assumed that the smell would have drawn Rusty out but he was either asleep or stubbornly sticking to his guns. She had intended to order a bottle of wine but, as Rusty had astutely predicted, it wasn’t that easy to forget about the previous year and none of the wines on offer were any good.
It was odd being back in her home. Her ballet prints were still up, her dishware was still here, everything was the way she had left it as an occupant but it felt cold and generic now. Though she was reluctant to admit it to herself, she longed for Brenda’s chaos.
Emily opened the door to see Sharon. She stepped out and wrapped her mom in a tight hug. “I missed you so much.”
Sharon nuzzled and kissed her temple. “I missed you too, sweetheart, so much.” Sharon squeezed.
“I have to warn you.” Emily admitted as they separated. “Dad’s here.”
“Oh. Jackson’s here?” Sharon stiffened.
“…and so are Bill and Laura.” Emily bit her lip anxiously.
“So, your father and your in-laws are here…” Sharon shoved her hands deeply into her pockets.
“I totally get it if that’s overwhelming. I can ask them to go.” Emily insisted.
“No, it’s fine, sweetie.” Sharon put a reassuring hand on Emily’s shoulder, giving it a light squeeze.
“Let’s go meet Amelie.” Emily smiled broadly, opening the door and let them into the house.
“Hey, look who it is!” Jackson enthused. He used the baby’s tiny fist to wave at Sharon. “That’s your grandma Sharon.”
Sharon felt her palms go clammy and felt slightly breathless as she stepped further into the room, towards her ex-husband and her first grandchild. She took each step very slowly and deliberately until her breath caught in her throat and she diverted her course to go out the backdoor into the backyard, the screen door clanging gently behind her.
“Okay, kiddo, back to your mom.” Jackson cooed to his granddaughter as he gingerly passed her back to Emily, his eyes never leaving Sharon’s retreating form.
“I should go after mom.” Emily said, looking at Jackson skeptically, accepting the baby.
“No, I’ve got your mom.” Jackson patted Emily on the shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile.
Jackson pushed open the screen door and stepped out into the small backyard. Sharon was sitting on the picnic table bench facing away from the house. He put his hand on the tabletop and lowered himself to the bench with a groan.
“Jesus. I gotta lose some weight.” He grunted.
Sharon smiled slightly and wiped at her watery eyes.
They were silent for a few minutes before Jackson nudged her with his shoulder. “Do you wanna talk about it?”
“No.” She said stubbornly.
“Okay. We can just sit.”
After another couple silent minutes Sharon sighed heavily. “I’m so happy to be back and I’m so happy to meet Amelie but something’s missing. I just… it was the realest and the least real year of my life.”
She bit the inside of her lip before turning to Jackson. “I’m a cliché. I’m a 60-year-old woman who just realized she was a lesbian. I’m super gay. I’m so gay it’s practically ridiculous.”
“I was married to you for most of our lives - you think I don’t know that?”
A sob caught in Sharon’s throat and she looked away, trying to cover her face.
“Hey, hey, Shar, I was just teasing you, I was trying to lighten the mood.” Jackson insisted, putting a hand on her arm. “It’s not so bad to be gay anymore. California’s pretty good. L.A. is pretty enlightened. SCOTUS upheld gay marriage.”
“No.” Sharon shook her head, wiping vainly at her eyes. “I had someone. I had someone really special and it was so perfect. I mean, it wasn’t perfect and that’s why it was perfect it was like… it was like a real marriage. It was so real. And now it’s over and I have… nothing.”
Jackson wrapped an arm around Sharon, pulling her close. She laid her head on his shoulder and he enveloped her in a hug, leaning his cheek against her forehead. “Sharon, you could never have ‘nothing.’ You have Ricky and Emily and Rusty – you even have me, which I realize isn’t necessary comforting but it is a fact. You have your job-”
“I’m so grateful that you’ve been there for Emily when I couldn’t - and I really hate you for it.”
Jackson laughed, giving her a squeeze. “I know you do, crazy lady.”
A new sob welled up in her. “I hate that I missed my first grandchild’s birth.”
“I know. It sucks.” Jackson commiserated. “I missed so much in our kids’ lives - and I know mine was my own fault - but it hurts to know that I missed it. But you’re here now - and I’m here now - the only thing we can do is… be here from now on.”
“Yeah.” She nodded.
“So, just to clarify, you’re 100% gay?”
“Jackson!” She snapped, smacking him in the shoulder.
He laughed as she got up off the bench. “Hey, I was just kidding.”
“You were not.”
He pushed himself up and followed after her. “Fine. You can’t blame a guy for trying.” He dropped his voice a little. “You’ve still got my favorite set of tits.”
She stopped walking and smacked him in the shoulder again.
He laughed, turning to deflect the blow. “Mercy! Mercy!”
“Why don’t you ever know when to quit while you’re ahead?” She demanded, hands thudding against his chest even as she fell into a fit of laughter.
“Go ahead. Feel better?”
“Yeah, I do…” She admitted.
He wrapped his arms around her and she struggled against the hug. “You’re still my best friend, Sharon.”
“You’re smothering me.”
“Say it and I’ll let you go!”
“Say what? That you’ve been my beard for almost forty years?” She laughed, “you’re my favorite fag hag?”
“Guys, guys!” Emily interrupted, hurrying down the steps. “I’m still trying to maintain some semblance of normality for my in-laws, you know?”
“Honey, we are who we are.” Jackson grinned, finally releasing Sharon.
Sharon smoothed down her jacket and nodded. “For better or for worse.”
“And I love who you are but maybe you could be a little less you for a little bit until Bill and Laura leave.” Emily pleaded.
“Fine. We’ll be the picture of normality.” Jackson promised. Emily narrowed her eyes with skepticism before deciding that was the best she was going to get.
Once they were inside Jackson cleared his throat, getting the attention of everyone in the kitchen. “Hey, Em, your mother has something to tell you.”
“I could kill you.” Sharon hissed in a whisper.
“We’ll talk later, sweetheart." Sharon patted Emily's forearm.
"Sharon!" Laura called from the living room, "come get in this picture."
Emily brought Sharon a glass of red wine, “do this one.”
“You are opening so many bottles of wine right now, sweetie.” Sharon smiled indulgently as Emily handed her a fifth glass of a small amount of wine to demonstrate her newly minted superpower of wine identification. Sharon swirled the wine in the glass, observing the legs and inhaling the bouquet. Amelie gurgled contentedly in her arms as she took her first sip.
Emily, Jackson, Bill, and Laura waited expectantly.
Sharon grinned. “Now you’re getting tricky. This is a blend.” She took a big smell of the bouquet again before taking another sip. “Well, it’s a California wine…”
“Right so far, mom.” Emily nodded, “gun to your head. What’s the blend?”
“Gun to my head?” Sharon chuckled. “Okay… I want to say Cab-Malbec?”
“Are you kidding me?” Emily laughed incredulously. “Did you see the bottle?”
“How would I have seen the bottle?”
“Oh my god. That’s insane.” Emily shook her head. “Wow, mom. Wow. You consumed a lot of wine while you were away.”
“I didn’t drink whole glasses of all of them. We just had a lot of wine tastings at work.”
“What was Vermont like?” Laura asked. “Was it a bad winter?”
“It’s definitely a culture shock and the temperature took some getting used to.” Sharon paused for a moment, remembering the events of the nor’easter. “The winter was… it was good. It was really good.”
Emily observed Sharon’s wistful look.
“I had a romance while I was in Vermont.” She admitted.
Jackson sat up straighter, surprised that Sharon was bringing it up.
“Oh, I’m glad to hear that. I’m glad you had someone to share your time with while you were gone.”
Sharon nodded, “I left the romance back east but it was really good while it lasted.”
“Well, there’s always facebook, right?” Bill suggested.
Sharon hummed thoughtfully.
Sharon returned home to the condo with a bag of groceries in tow. “Rusty?” She called out.
“Yeah?” He looked up over the couch.
“I got some groceries. Would you like to make something with me?”
“No. I ate the leftover pizza and I’m full.”
“Are you going to avoid me forever?”
Rusty stood up. “The person you love came back to L.A. with you. The person I love, I had to leave in Vermont and he thinks I’m full of shit and I can’t even contact him until after Stroh’s sentencing. You’re upset about not having Brenda but you’re not even doing anything about it. Fucking talk to her.”
Sharon opened her mouth to protest.
“And don’t say it’s not that simple again because it is. You don’t know where you stand unless you talk to her. Period. End of story. Avoiding her isn’t making you happy so even if it’s not the answer you want, you’re not going to feel worse than you feel right now.”
“You want me to just show up at the house that she shares with her husband and declare my love?” She smirked.
“She’s not at her house.”
Brenda leaned up and looked through the peep hole, surprised to see Sharon outside her hotel room. She paused but warily unlocked the door and opened it.
Sharon offered an apologetic smile even as the look of distrust on Brenda’s face broke her heart a little. Sharon took a deep breath. “Do you remember the time after the nor’easter when I went to mass?”
Brenda furrowed her brow, clearly surprised by the question. “Um… I do, yes.”
“After the sermon, I introduced myself to the priest and he asked me if I wanted to give confession. And I had gone to that mass expressly for the purpose of meeting the priest and giving my confession. I’m sure I don’t also have to remind you that during the nor’easter was the first time that we had sex. Or, I guess, more specifically, the first time that I was ready to have sex together.”
“Do you want to come inside?” Brenda furrowed her brow.
“I just want to say this.” Sharon insisted. “I went to mass so that I could confess that I’d fallen in love with you and I had slept with you. I walked up to him and I shook his hand and he asked me my name and I… I said Rose Murray. I thought about it for a second and it felt weird, weirder than any of the other times I’d had introduce myself with my false name. That was… the first and only time that I have ever lied to a priest.”
Sharon shrugged. “And as that occurred to me and Father Flannery asked me if I wanted to give a confession, I realized that I didn’t. I didn’t tell something to this priest. I didn’t tell him my real name. And I didn’t feel bad about it because our safety in Vermont was not worth less than telling the whole truth to this man. And it was also maybe the first time that I thought of a priest as just a man. And I… said no. I didn’t give my confession.
“As I was driving home and mulling this whole thing over in my mind and trying to solidify why it was exactly that I walked away from Father Flannery. And it was that I realized that I didn’t need someone to sanctify or vilify my experience. It wasn’t his business; it was mine and yours. Our relationship wasn’t something that I needed someone to OK. I was okay and there was nothing that I needed to prove to anyone. And then as the rest of the year unfolded my little rationalizations fell one by one until I was being honest with myself, completely and totally and for the first time. These things that were subtly purged out of me by parents, siblings, teachers, friends, nuns, priests… they were never gone, they were only buried. And the thing that I have spent almost my whole life burying and holding at bay is that I am a lesbian. I was never not a lesbian, I just got very good at rationalizing and ignoring and being careful not to let anyone get that close to me.
“Except you.” Sharon smiled. “Even when I was trying not to let you in, you made space for yourself. You took up residence in my soul and you refused to be ousted and just your presence and persistence was enough to start breaking down my walls. And now I’m able to stand here in front of you, and God, and anyone who might walk by at any time: I am a lesbian.”
Sharon wetted her suddenly dry lips, feeling self-conscious now that she’d finished her speech – which deviated only a little from the speech she’d spent the entire drive rehearsing. She bit her lip, afraid of saying anything more before Brenda actually got a word in.
Brenda searched Sharon’s eyes for a moment before the corners of her mouth twitched a little before it broke out into an honest to goodness smile. “Did you say you fell in love with me?”
Sharon laughed. “Please tell me you didn’t stop listening after that part.” She teased.
“No, I heard the rest.” Brenda nodded. “Why did you run away at the courthouse?”
Sharon shrugged helplessly. “I panicked when I saw Fritz because I knew that you hadn’t officially ended things with him and I was worried that you wanted to be with him because it was easier. It’s another one of those rationalizations that I’m trying to rid myself of because really I was just afraid to be disappointed. I didn’t feel ready for things to be over between us and…” She wrung her hands, shaking her head. “And I’m still not ready for that. But I know that it’s not only up to me and avoiding you wouldn’t change whatever your intentions were.
“And you know me,” Sharon sighed. “I’m not really comfortable going into any situation where I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. It’s kind of a lawyer thing that I’ve never been able to shake. And this conversation is terrifying – almost every conversation with you has been because you’re unpredictable. And usually that unpredictability is refreshing and stimulating and actually fun while being terrifying. But bearing my soul to you is very legitimately terrifying and I can’t stop talking because as long as I’m still talking I don’t have to risk you breaking my heart. I love you, Georgia Murray. I love you, Deputy Chief Johnson. I love you, Brenda.”
Brenda cupped her cheeks and pulled her into a kiss. Their lips touching and muscle memory taking over as Sharon deepened the kiss, wrapping her arms around the younger woman. Brenda’s fingers slid into Sharon’s soft chocolate waves and they clung to each other.
They broke apart breathlessly and Brenda’s hands cupped Sharon’s shoulder blades, sliding down to her waist. “I love you, Rose Murray. I love you, Captain Raydor. And I love you, Sharon.”
Sharon’s whole body physically relaxed, letting out a small sob of relief.
“Fritz met us at the courthouse because he wanted to hear it from me that our marriage was over even though we both knew it when I joined witness protection without him. And I did that because it was easier than talking to him. Being with Fritz has never really been easy. It was a lot of things over the years and sometimes it was easy to not talk about what was wrong, but our relationship was never easy for anyone.” Brenda admitted. “No relationship I’ve ever had has been as easy as being with you. The hardest part was seeing you struggle with yourself and not knowing how to help. But you never wanted me to be something that I wasn’t and I’ve always felt that you’ve respected, liked, and loved me for the person I am, flaws and all. I’ve always felt that people loved me despite something – something that they thought they could change in me and I always failed to be that person. You’ve never made me feel like I’ve failed you.”
“You have never failed me.” Sharon whispered. “Not since day one. Not ever.”
“So, what do we do now?” Brenda asked.
“I don’t know.” Sharon admitted. “I suppose, to start, I could invite you to stay with me and Rusty, get you out of this hotel room?”
“I’d like that a lot.” Brenda smiled. “It’s actually been hard sleeping without you. I keep waking up in the middle of the night looking for you.”
Sharon cupped Brenda’s cheek, rubbing the pad of her thumb over her cheekbone. She leaned close and whispered. “I haven’t woken up hot and bothered since our last night in Vermont.”
“Well, why don’t you come inside and we’ll see what we can do about that…”
Sharon grinned, pulling Brenda in for a deep kiss. Brenda wrapped her arms around Sharon’s waist and tugged her back inside the hotel room and Sharon kicked the door closed behind her.
Chapter 25: Epilogue
One year later…
Rusty walked across the University of Vermont campus toward the visitor’s lot where Sharon and Brenda were waiting for him. Sharon had texted when they landed and Rusty arranged to meet them at the edge of campus.
Sharon and Brenda waved to him as soon as he crested the hill. He grinned and jogged up to them, Sharon pulling him into a big hug and Brenda wrapping her arms around them both. He hadn’t seen them since Christmas and had missed them a lot more than he thought he would.
“Are Zach and Erica going to join us?” Sharon asked as they got into the car.
“They can do dinner but they both have finals today.”
“Don’t you have finals?” Brenda asked, turning around in her seat.
“Nope.” He chuckled, “I’m an art student. My finals are projects and I had one class whose final was an essay.”
“So, what do you want to do for lunch?” Brenda looked at Rusty through the rearview mirror.
“How about we get some takeout and do a picnic at the park like we did when we first got here?” He suggested.
“I don’t think we have a blanket, kid.”
“I have one in my backpack.”
“Okay, then.” Brenda chuckled. “Where do you want to get food from then?”
Brenda ate the last of her salad and leaned put the container in the takeout bag. “I’m having déjà vu.”
Sharon chuckled, dropping her empty container back into the takeout bag too. “Why don’t we complete the déjà vu and take a picture?” She stood up and held out a hand to Brenda. “If Rusty would indulge us.”
“Of course.” Rusty grinned, standing up.
Sharon wrapped her arms around Brenda and Brenda smiled, folding into her arms. Rusty started taking pictures.
“I love you.” Sharon whispered.
“I love you too.” Brenda smiled sweetly.
Sharon gave her a kiss before releasing her and taking a tiny step back. “Brenda…” Sharon began, as she sank down onto one knee. Brenda’s hands came up to her mouth. “Would you make me the happiest woman on earth… and be my wife? Will you marry me, Georgie Girl?”
Brenda bit back a sob, grinning. “Yes!” She took Sharon by the hands and pulled her back up to pull her into a deep kiss. “Yes, yes, yes!”
Sharon leaned her forehead against Brenda’s. “You’re the love of my life.”
“I’m so happy to have been part of a family with you and with Rusty for these past two years. And now I’m excited to make it official.” Brenda cupped Sharon’s cheek and kissed her again.
Brenda looked over to Rusty who was still taking pictures. She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Were you in on this?”
Rusty laughed, “well, she needed a photographer.”
Brenda held out an arm. “Get over here.”
He leaned back against Brenda and she wrapped an arm around him, giving him a squeeze as Rusty took a picture of the three of them.