Protected: Part 12 Necessary Conversations

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Part 11 After Effects

“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.

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Protected: Part 10 Heat

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Part 9 Starlight

My throat felt tight and my eyes were hot. I gulped for air and turned my head to rest my cheek on Gwen’s breast. I couldn’t keep it in and my chest heaved against hers as a quiet sob ripped through my throat.

“What are you- Oh my god, are you crying?” Gwen asked incredulously, stroking my arm. I sat up, shoving her arm away from where it had been wrapped around me and wiped a tear from my cheek.

“I’m not crying!” I protested, but my voice broke. “It’s just-” Gwen was laughing at me! “Come on, do you have no heart? Bette and Tina are supposed to be together forever!” I sobbed at her. “You knew this was going to happen and you made me watch it anyway, you bitch!”

She cracked up, doubled over laughing at my heartbroken state. “It’s a TV show. Tabby, you’re crying over L Word. They’re not real!” she managed in between chuckles.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s – They’re – Jesus, Gwen, she was her first!” I wasn’t crying anymore, mad at her instead.

“So she can go out and experience something new,” she shrugged. “That’s a good thing. You never know what’s going to happen, who’s going to stay together or get together or get back together or what’s going to fall apart. That’s all part of the fun.” She got up to get herself a glass of water.

“It’s not fun,” I grumbled, clutching a pillow to my chest. I wiped the stray tears from my face and the ache behind my eyes dimmed and took up residence faintly behind my heart. She brought a glass of water for me without asking and I gulped it down gratefully. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I’d gotten. Wordlessly, she handed me the other glass and I drank the whole thing as well, but slower. I handed it back to her with a raised brow and then flushed. Right, I’d been crying, of course I was thirsty.

“Can we watch something happy now?” I begged.

“Happy? With lesbians?” she joked wryly. “Pick out whatever,” she gestured to the shelf.

I looked through the titles she’d already made me watch: My Summer of Love, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, But I’m a Cheerleader, Lost and Delirious, Better than Chocolate, and Boys Don’t Cry. I guess happiness was a mixed bag.

“Find anything?” she smirked at me, an eyebrow raised mockingly.

I shrugged, still thinking about the fictional break up I’d just witnessed. “Can we just…I don’t know.”

“You want to go for a walk?” she asked, and I lit up. How could she know me better than I knew myself? We pulled on our coats and I slipped on my flats as she took a cigarette from a pack in the back of a kitchen drawer. It was odd that she wanted to smoke, since usually it was a social thing for her, but we had both been stressed out at work. She lit it and we quickly made our way out the front door, locking it behind us.

The night was cold and crisp, the stars overhead were glowing, crystal clear points in a dark lake. Our breath fanned out in front of us and frost was already gathering on the grass. The tops of my feet chilled between my flats and the hem of my jeans.

“Gwen,” I took her hand in mine, velvet-soft, warm, slightly larger than mine. We fell into synchronized step immediately, I’m not sure whether it was a conscious effort on her part or not. It didn’t seem like it.

“What’s up, girl?” she asked, blowing smoke from the corner of her mouth. I loved when she did that. I loved the Christmas smell of her vanilla and clove cigarettes and wondered what she must taste like.

“What’s it like to live in the city, where you can’t see the milky way, or the teaspoon?”

“The teaspoon?” she laughed questioningly, pulling another drag off her cigarette.

I nudged her playfully. “Pleiades. The Seven Sisters. It looks like the Big Dipper but really, really tiny so I always called it the teaspoon. It’s right there,” I pointed it out to her and she readjusted her glasses.

“Wow, I don’t think I ever even realized there was a constellation there,” she confessed, cigarette pressed against the frame of her glasses. She still hadn’t let go of my hand. I let my head drop to her shoulder and looked up at the stars, breathing her in.

“There’s a thousand of them. Cassiopeia is that big ‘W’ shape, and her daughter Andromeda and Perseus are both up there with her. Perseus is carrying Medusa’s head – that red star right there is her eye, and it’s a malicious star in every culture.”

“Weird,” she craned her head back to look at the constellations I’d pointed out. The cold bit into my skin and I was shivering, but I brushed my nose against the skin of her neck. I leaned in and kissed the warm, soft skin below her ear, begging silently for her not to pull away.

“Your nose is cold,” she noted, not really a complaint. She took a drag off her cigarette and I slowly kissed her neck. I let my mouth linger. I had wanted to feel her for so long. She was so soft, so sweet. I brought my free hand up to slip my fingers through her belt loop and sighed into her skin. We were quiet for a few minutes as my lips mapped out the contours of her skin, memorizing each inch of velvet, each sweet freckle. I could feel her chest rise and fall as she smoked, could feel her body pressed against me, so much warmer than mine.

She squeezed my hand and I pressed a tender kiss against her skin and allowed myself to come up from nuzzling her neck. She stared at me and my heart raced. Her eyes sparkled like fire, as brilliant and wonderful as any of the stars overhead. My fingers twitched against her side and I clutched at her belt loop for balance.

She dropped her cigarette but didn’t watch where it landed. Her stare was melting me, killing me, burning me just as I was freezing from the frost all around us. She brought her fingers up to brush against my cheek and I closed my eyes at the whisper soft pleasure. “You’re shivering,” she realized, and crushed the cigarette under her sneaker.

“Gwen,” I protested, but I could only whisper. I tightened my grip on her jeans and she brought her hand up to cover mine. I stepped closer to her and her legs entangled with mine, her torso pressed against all my curves, and I skimmed my nose along hers, brushed my cheek beside her own. I was begging her with my body but I wasn’t ashamed. I whimpered and her lips brushed against my cheek, not so much a kiss as a drag of her open mouth across my skin. It felt so delicious that I shuddered. She pulled back slightly.

“We’d better get you inside,” she breathed, and I could feel her chest move against mine. I wanted to protest again, but she unhooked my grip on the loop of her jeans. She squeezed my hand reassuringly and I gripped onto hers like a lifeline as I followed her back into the warmth of the house.

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Protected: Part 8 Bliss

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Part 7 Missing

She did get sick – full on sore throat, coughing up a lung, nose running five miles type of sick. I was determined not to get it, since colds seem to last extra long with me, but I dropped off the essentials everyday after work; a care package of soup, tissues, medicine, and tea all bundled up and dropped on the doorstep with a ring of the doorbell so we wouldn’t exchange germs.

Despite our issues with Mandy and the lack of wiggle room, I missed her intensely for the few days she was out. Gwen’s absence made my hurt fade, until all my emotions were used up by missing her, but the space apart from her forced me painfully back into reality.

I realized that I had no food of my own at my house. My roommate and I hadn’t talked in weeks and she was pissed about it. Apparently she’d been trying to talk to me about lowering the electricity bill for months. (Obviously not my fault since I was never there.) My best friends were feeling neglected and I hadn’t cared to spend any time one-on-one with any of them since Gwen arrived on the scene.

I was invited out for a game night by a group of some of my closest friends and eagerly accepted, hoping to fill some of the painful, gaping hole that had appeared since Gwen locked herself in her room with a bottle of Robitussin. It was an odd mix, as Shelly and Di were both my very good friends but didn’t really like each other. Di and Liz were both trying to date John, and Beth I didn’t know very well. Anyway, I paired up with Di, which hurt Shelly’s feelings but we made an awesome team and kicked serious ass. It was a fun night and there were lots of laughs to be had, even if the atmosphere was a little awkward. Eventually the others left and Shelly asked me to stay behind.

“I feel like I haven’t hung out with you in forever,” Shelly complained. I laughed her off.

“We’ve just spent four hours together.”

“I mean before that. You spend all your time with Gwen nowadays. I miss my best friend, you know?”

“Yeah,” I fiddled with my hair, feeling a little guilt. “I know. It’s just – It’s so new. She makes me feel all these things I never thought I -” I remembered my failed conversation with my mom. “She’s different than anyone I’ve ever known,” I tried instead.

“What, so I’m not cool enough for you now?” she asked, affronted.

“What? She’s – Do you want to be my girlfriend or something?” I was totally confused. She was acting like I’d dumped her.

“No, I’m not a lezzie or anything, God. She’s just bad fucking news. You’re my friend, I don’t want to see you get hurt. And it sucks that I mean so little to you that some butch slut shows up and struts her stuff, and then I don’t see you for months. You don’t have time for me, ever.”

I wasn’t sure what to do. Was Gwen ‘butch?’ Was it an insult? It certainly sounded like one, the way she spat it out. “She didn’t just show up, snap her fingers, and have me drop to my knees, okay? She’s my friend, a really great friend, and she’s been there for me while I’ve been dealing with some stuff you can’t begin to understand or help me with. She’s not a bad person. I’m sorry if you feel like I dropped you, and maybe I did, but I sort of got caught up exploring this whole new world and this other side of myself, so a little understanding would be great.”

“The world didn’t stop turning while you were figuring out that you like licking pussy, Tabby. I’m going through shit too. Brandon and I are having serious issues and I don’t know what to do and I wanted someone to talk to, but you were over in la-la land being a selfish bitch.”

My ears were burning. I didn’t want to fight with her, but I couldn’t stay or I was going to say things I’d regret. “Look, I’m going to go. I hope you find someone to talk to. I’m sorry everything’s going to hell in a hand-basket for you,” I said, thinking of my own life crumbling into pieces, of the attempt to tell my mother about Gwen. Yeah, she was going through stuff. So the boyfriend she hated 89% of the time might break up with her. She could move on and find someone way better.

“You walk out and I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” she threatened. I laced up my shoes and reached for my bag.

“See you tomorrow, Shell,” I said, and closed the door behind me. She shrieked and the door thudded as if it had been struck by something hard. I knew Shelly, she’d calm down and beg for me to talk to her again in a few days.

I clambered into my car and sat with my phone in my hands for several long minutes. It was late, but I wanted to text first:girl. I wanted to know she was okay. I wanted to see her. I missed her. There was an empty spot in my chest that ached when she wasn’t around, and the longer I went without seeing her, the more the dull ache turned into a painful, hot throbbing. You feeling okay? I decided to send, and sat in the cold waiting for a reply. Five minutes, ten – nothing.

I started the car and drove slowly back to my house, hoping she’d respond before I got there. I unlocked the sticky door and crept through the darkness to my room, changing in the moonlight and slipping into bed. I kept my phone cradled in my hand as I began to drift off, watching the fuzzy stars out the window. I woke around 2 am to a bright glow – the phone’s vibrate must have woken me. Feeling a little better. Will be at work tomorrow. I smiled, but didn’t want to text back, afraid I’d seem like a creeper. I tucked the phone under my pillow, a warm, sweet feeling spreading through my veins, and drifted into dreamland.

I ran into Di and John the next day and immediately my hackles were raised. “Hey, guys,” I threw out cautiously.

“Good game last night, Tabby,” John grinned at me flirtatiously. He was a flirt with absolutely everyone, but a very loyal friend and a great guy. His team won the game last night, while Di and I came in close second.

“Thanks, Di and I make a good team,” I smiled, nudging her hip with mine. She laughed and her eyes shone too brightly. Something must have happened between them after they left the night before.

“Yeah, we do,” she answered. “It was good seeing you. We should hang out more often, I missed you.”

“Yeah,” I started, seeing a similar pattern to last night’s conversation with Shelly. “Sorry about that-”

“It’s cool,” Di cut in, “you are doing your own thing or whatever you need to do. I totally get it. But game night was fun, so we should do it again sometime.”

She was grinning at me and I was so relieved. I pulled her into the biggest hug I could manage. “Yeah, we should. It was fun, really fun. You up for another one?” I asked John.

“Sure, I had a blast,” he shrugged and slung an arm over Di and my shoulders. “Plus, who am I to say no to hanging out with such lovely ladies?” I laughed but saw first:girl in the parking lot.

“Hey, I’ll see you guys later?” I asked, shrugging John’s arm off. They nodded and I beamed at them. “Text me!” I yelled behind me, running for her car. I tried to cool my jets and walk the last 20 feet, but it was pointless. She already seen me running.

“Hey,” I smiled breathlessly. “You’re up and out. How are you holding up?”

“Okay,” her voice was a little husky. “Thanks for all the soup and medicine and everything. I think you kept me alive,” she grinned wryly at me.

“It was nothing,” I blushed, kicking the asphalt. She put her hand on my arm. It was warm, stable, firm, but gentle.

“It was everything,” she said, and when I glanced up, her eyes were locked on mine. There was a lump in my throat so I could only nod. She grinned and bent down to retrieve a sweatshirt from the backseat. “Let’s do this!”

I threaded my arm through hers and couldn’t stop my smile as the ache in my chest was replaced by a warm feeling of being whole. We weaved into the building as she filled me in on all the movies she’d been watching while she was sick and I laughed and leaned my head on her shoulder and was so very glad I no longer had to be parted from her.

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Protected: Part 6 Descent

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