“You and Gwen are together?” she asked for clarification. I started to correct her, but she interrupted before I could get anything out. “Right before Mandy is coming back. I never saw that one coming. She’s got some serious feelings for you, in that case.”
“Wait, what?” I was taken aback. “Mandy is coming back?”
“Uh,” Celine started to back away and I glared at her until she stopped. “She’s…shit. I’m sorry, Tabby. You two talk about everything – I thought you knew.”
“Apparently we don’t talk about everything. Spill it. Now.”
“Mandy is coming back for Gwen’s brother’s wedding. She asked Mandy months ago and bought the ticket and everything…But she’s never really – I mean – I don’t know the right thing to say here,” she admitted, but I could fill in the blanks.
She’s never really gotten over Mandy, Celine was going to say. I had to agree. I’d known it all along. Had taken it at face value, as another obstacle I had to rise above and overcome.
“Is she staying in town after the wedding?” Is she back for good? I wanted to ask, but the words jammed in my throat.
Celine shrugged painfully, like she were hurting herself as much as me. “I don’t know, Tabs. I’m sorry. I didn’t- I don’t. Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“You’re not the one who needs to apologize,” I said. I was glaring, but not exactly at her. Gwen should have told me. Should have told me weeks ago and I would have been fine with it. Better to know what was going on with their relationship and ours than to find out second hand and feel played, and then have to guess what is going on in Gwen’s head. You know what they say about assumptions.
“When did you-” I shook my head and bit off my question. I didn’t want to know how long she’d been talking to Celine about this. Too bad Celine could read me like a book.
“We were just talking about it on the patio, like an hour ago. She’s nervous about seeing Mandy again.”
I sucked in a deep breath and swore never to come to this house again. Never to drink again. Everything got fucked up when I drank. “Alright, it’s okay,” I reassured Celine. I realized that Di was rubbing my back and tried to release my tense muscles.
“Everything’s okay,” I repeated, but they were both still looking at me like I was going to fall apart. I was so hot, the room was like a sauna. I looked past Celine and realized they were hotboxing one of the living rooms. Crap, that’s the last thing I wanted to be a part of.
“You guys hungry? I could go for – I don’t even know what they have. But I’m starving,” I laughed, trying to change the subject and simultaneously get us away from the living room.
“Sure,” Di jumped in. “I think someone made cinnamon rolls, and like, who makes cinnamon rolls for a party? But now they sound delicious.” They made cinnamon rolls because people were going to be high, I wanted to say, but held back.
“You coming Celine?” I asked instead. She shook her head and backed into the living room.
“I’ll meet up with you guys later,” she promised. Di shrugged and tugged on my hand, dragging us toward the kitchen. She loved the way I mix drinks, so as soon as we entered the kitchen she was thrusting bottles of liquor into my hands and begging me to make her something good.
I made her small batches of things, having her taste them while she picked off pieces of a cinnamon roll and fed them to me with her fingers. She was getting some grief from others, now that my lesbian sexuality was “confirmed” but she brushed it off, laughing. I was exuberant to have found a friend who just didn’t care. Soon, other people began coming up to the counter asking for certain drinks 0r some too drunk to handle the big, glass bottles themselves. I found myself playing bartender for a while and lost myself in it, Di giggling at my side.
She was three sheets to the wind and I’d managed to consume half a cinnamon roll when first:girl crept into the room. She looked at me from across the counter top like I was going to leap at her with claws drawn. “Want a drink?” I asked, gesturing to the various bottles surrounding me.
She shook her head solemnly and I sighed in exasperation. I’d never bitten her head off before, I don’t know why she was expecting me to now. I was just about to call her out on it, missing the Gwen who was fiery and strong, when Di slipped and clutched onto my arm, giggling and drunk. I smiled fondly at her tipsy demeanor, righting her and tucking her hair behind her ears, and when I glanced back up Gwen’s stare was harsh.
“Annie,” I called over to my new friend. “Can you take care of Di for a bit? I think she needs to sit down for a while.”
“Sure,” Annie responded perkily. She took Di’s arm and the two wobbled toward the backyard. I watched them leave. The cold might do both of them some good.
“Tabs,” Gwen’s hand was on my arm and her tone was apologetic and stern all at once. “Let’s go.” She looked deadly serious. I decided not to press her.
“Should I get my coat?” She nodded and let go of my arm reluctantly. She followed me over to the couch where I crawled over it to reach my jacket. When I stood up, she was looking at the furniture with an indecipherable expression.
“You ready?” she asked, jerking her head toward me, and I nodded. She hooked her hand into my jacket pocket and pulled me outside, not bothering to stop and say goodbye to anyone.
We passed Celine, who was smoking on the porch. She studied Gwen’s face first and then looked at me apologetically. I shrugged, but my lips pursed. Had she told Gwen I was going to go nuts or something?
Gwen pulled me off onto a familiar bit of grass. This was the same place we had sat after Charlie confronted me, only this time I wasn’t crying, and there was no drink in Gwen’s hand. I’d rather she had a beer.
We sat in growing silence. “Are we going to talk about this?” she finally asked.
“Are you going to tell me what we’re supposed to talk about? The kiss was pretty spectacular on my end,” I snapped. So much for keeping my cool.
She flushed and looked away, but when she came back her stare was hard. “You know what I’m talking about. Don’t play cute now.”
“You didn’t want to tell me she was coming back, that’s fine,” I tried to brush it off. “I thought we were best friends, but-” ah, there was the bitterness.
“We are – It’s just – She’s -” Gwen was stuttering and biting her lip and her fists were clenched. “I can’t talk about her with you,” she confessed in a whisper. It felt like a hot knife to the heart. I nodded, a knot in my throat.
” ‘Kay,” my voice was weak and the last thing I wanted to do right now was cry. I didn’t want to fight, I didn’t want to throw a tantrum. I wanted to go back in time to when we were too warm and too drunk and kissing and life was beautiful. “But it’s – I mean – We’ve got to talk about her now, don’t we?”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I guess we do.” But neither of us did. The silence grew longer and I felt fate knocking at my door.
“So, we’re not -” I couldn’t breathe. “We’re not going to happen, are we?” I could feel it, deep in my bones. This chill, so much deeper than the frosty air around us. It sucked the warmth from my veins.
“You’re great, Tabby, you’re amazing,” I shook my head, fists balled. I couldn’t stand to hear the consolation speech.
“No,” she hedged. “I can’t do that – this.”
I nodded, but my heart was shattering into a million pieces. An hour or two ago I’d felt so whole, so complete, so euphoric, lost in a kiss with the person next to me.
” ‘kay,” was all I could get out. If I tried to say anything more I knew I was going to cry.
“Tabs,” she reached for my hand and I let her take it. She was so warm next to me. So soft, so sweet, so comforting. I leaned my head on her shoulder and tried desperately not to shudder next to her, afraid she would feel it. She wrapped an arm around me and I basked in her embrace. I sucked in a violent breath and a few tears escaped now that I was sure she couldn’t see me. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, and I wasn’t sure for which part.
“We can still be friends, right?” I asked into her chest, terrified. Losing the relationship I’d just had a glimpse of was breaking my heart. Losing her completely would kill me.
“The best,” she assured me, and my tears dripped onto her jacket.