Between What's Wrong and Rightbydamppanties©
"Oh, that's quite near where I live. I'm in Chicago. If you ever need anything, please feel free to let me know or drop by. I would be happy to show you around or even have you on weekends if you'd like to see a bit of the city," Tanya offered. "I'll give you my address and phone number."
"Thank you, that's so sweet of you to offer. I definitely will think about it once I get settled in and see how much work this college thing requires."
She was delightful, sweet and carefree and so utterly like Christine was at that age that Tanya felt her heart constrict. "So how is it that you two are on this holiday by yourselves?"
"Mom and I thought it would be nice to spend time by ourselves before I went off to college. She says she's going to miss me, but I know secretly she's going to be relieved to have both the kids out her hair and off to college, aren't you, Mom?"
"You're my baby and I'm probably going to worry myself sick over you, rather than be relieved," Christine replied, giving her daughter a look filled with such love that Tanya felt her breath catch.
"God, Mom! It's not like I'm five!" Aimee said good-naturedly.
"But you know you'll always be my baby."
Dinner wasn't what Tanya thought it would be. It was full of long pauses and awkward conversation. Things that she would have liked to know, she couldn't ask Christine in front of her daughter. Like had Christine been happy, had she found love? And the things they talked about -- inconsequential things -- did nothing to capture the sense of closeness that Tanya had hoped to recover.
An impressive sunset over the expanse of water accompanied their sumptuous dinner, and by the time the sun had lost itself in the fiery depths of the ocean, they were replete with good food and heady wine, and ready to go back to the inn. Tanya wanted, no needed, to have some time with Christine. She would give herself a half hour to talk to her. That's all.
She tried to think of a way to make it happen, but to her surprise, Aimee gave her the opportunity she was looking for.
"Mom, I'm sure you two want to catch up without me being like a third wheel in the middle. You barely talked all through dinner and I know what those memories from your college days might be like," she said with a grin directed at Christine. "So I'm going up, I'm kind of tired, and I'll leave you two alone to trade all manners of things not suitable for an eighteen year old who's too young to hear of your wild days. Goodnight."
"Actually, no..." Christine started.
Tanya interrupted her. "Why don't we have a glass of wine and talk? I have some with me I was hoping to enjoy tonight, alone, but I'd love to share it with you. Out on the patio? It's a nice night," she said, smiling and hoping her invitation would not be rejected.
Christine hesitated briefly but then stepped out into the warm, dark summer night. After a minute, Tanya joined her on the wooden patio with a couple of wine glasses and a bottle. She poured for them both and handed a glass to Christine.
They settled into the comfortable Adirondack chairs, side by side, and looked at the star-filled night sky laid out in front of them.
"How have you been, Christine?" Tanya asked.
Christine took a sip before replying. "Fine. Good, even. It's been nice. I have a good life and two amazing kids. Gabriel is almost done with his degree and now Aimee is starting hers. Both are great kids. I think I've done well with them."
Tanya couldn't help asking. "And Giles?"
"We got divorced."
Tanya snapped her head around to look at her friend at the unexpected declaration. She didn't know what to say. She hadn't known and nothing in the conversation during dinner had pointed to this.
"The bastard squeezed everything out of me for years and then left me for someone younger." A slight sheen of tears in Christine's eyes reflected the light from the living room.
A band tightened itself around Tanya's chest in response. "I'm sorry."
Christine let out a humorless laugh. "Yes, it didn't last. And it had even stopped being pleasant a few years before he cheated on me. Won't you tell me 'I told you so'?"
"No. No, I won't. You made the decision you needed to make back then. That it didn't work out is not your fault."
They were quiet for a few breaths.
"I thought about you often, you know?" Christine admitted quietly. "Especially these last few years."
Tanya smiled wryly. "I thought about you too."
"Tanya, I'm sorry. For being so..."
"Forget about it. It was long back, Christine. We've both lived lifetimes after that."
"Yes. We have. Anyway, tell me about you. How have you been?"
Tanya shrugged slightly. "Okay. I've worked hard and have a lot to show for it. I'm successful, at least if the press is to be believed. I've worked a lot, accumulated too much, given a lot of it away and... well, it keeps going on. I keep busy with work and lately I had been working too much, even more than usual. It got too tiring. So, this holiday."
"And that was work. What about life?"
"What about it, Christine? That was a life lived I suppose."
"I'm sorry I didn't mean it that way. I just... do you have anyone special? To share it with?"
Tanya took a deep breath. "No."
The silence stretched between them.
"I loved you, you know?" Tanya said finally. "A lot. There have been women since then, I'm no angel, but nothing serious. Nothing lasting. Merely to... well, have someone to hold I suppose."
"I'm sorry," Christine said again.
"Stop apologizing. It's not going to do any good."
"I didn't mean to..."
"No, you didn't. And anyway, as I said, it's been a while. Forget about it."
They sipped their wine and stared into the black night.
"Tanya, I am sorry, you know. I didn't mean to hurt you." Christine said finally.
Tanya turned to look at her. She sighed. "It's okay, Christine. I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to snap at you. You did what you had to do."
They settled into comfortable silence.
"Do you miss him?" Tanya asked. "I mean, I know what it is to be alone."
"Miss Giles? No. Not him," Christine said softly. "I miss the togetherness, I think. Or maybe togetherness is not the right word. It's hard to put it into words. It's like... when I want neck rubs or someone to run to the grocery store or lift something heavy down for me. Little things like that. Not that I mean that was all he was, but... I don't know. I don't miss him as such. I mean, it was good for me, the divorce. It needed to happen. But when you've had something for so long, you get used to it and when it goes away, it does leave this... space. That's the best way I can put it."
"May I?" Tanya asked impulsively.
"May you what?"
"Rub your neck."
Christine turned to look at her.
Keeping her eyes on Christine, Tanya placed her glass on the ground and got up to move to Christine's chair.
"No, that isn't really necessary," Christine protested.
"Please, let me."
Tanya perched on the arm of the chair, and moving hair out of the way, dug the pads of her fingers into the base of Christine's neck. The muscles were knotted, just as she had thought they would be.
"You still have those stress headaches."
"Yes," Christine replied.
"Well, relax then."
After a moment, Christine did, and Tanya massaged the spots that she knew gave the most relief to her friend. It was like they were back in college and Tanya was doing what she had done numerous times -- before a test, after a night of studying, or when Christine had merely slept wrong or when she just had too much going on. It was a familiar ritual and they both settled into its familiarity, and before long, Tanya felt the flesh beneath her fingers become soft and pliable.
The fresh rain-washed night wrapped itself around them, cocooning them in a togetherness that was soothing. The darkness and the serenading of crickets in the still air added to the sense of romance. It was like they were transported back through all those years -- just girls, friends, lovers.
Tanya stroked the slender neck, loath to stop touching. Her fingers ran over the fine hair, soft as the down on a baby's head, and her heart ached. What she wouldn't give to touch this person whenever she felt like it. To just do it without the excuse of a neck rub.
But why couldn't she, Tanya thought. Hadn't she given up enough? What if she took something for herself for a change? What if she gave herself one night? And Christine was also lonely. She had just admitted it. It would not be wholly selfish if she could give something in the taking.
With that thought guiding her, Tanya bent down and laid her lips along the nape of Christine's neck.
Christine stiffened. "Tanya?"
"Shh," Tanya murmured. "I know what it is to be alone, Christine. Let me..."
"No." The denial was firm.
"Why not?" Tanya asked, straightening, her hands on Christine's shoulders.
"It's wrong, Tanya. I can't do it."
"Why not?" Tanya asked again. "What's wrong about it? It's not like you're cheating on anyone."
"No, I... that's not it. I can't."
"Why not, Christine? You're an adult. And I know you have the ability to... enjoy it. You have in the past. Just let yourself go. And let me love you."
"Tanya, please. I don't think I can do this. Please understand."
"Christine, unless you give me a reason, I don't see why not."
"I don't need to give you a reason."
"Oh, you don't? You know what, Christine? I'm tired of this. Tired of letting you go. 'If you love something, set it free.' All that is is a load of rubbish. If you love someone, fight for it. Give it a chance for happiness, for fulfillment, for an ecstasy that can never be replaced by something else, ever. I didn't fight back then. I let you go. But now I won't. I want to know why you can't, Christine. I'm not letting you go without a fight."
"Twenty-two years ago I let you go, Christine. Have you been happy? Have you been free?"
"This is wrong."
"Wrong? And Giles was right? What did you get out of that? A three-bedroom house? Alimony? A life with someone who couldn't love you, then finally heartache and loneliness between the sheets and in your life? He's killed everything within you that was you, Christine."
"You're right. I'm nothing but a husk of a person. I was never as courageous as you, never will be. But all I have is my kids. They're my life's work and I will not hurt them, Tanya."
"Your kids. Twenty years ago, it was your parents, society, people. Giles. You will never live for yourself, will you?"
"No. You will never live for yourself. Nor for someone who loves you for who you are. Why would you? That's the craziest thing anyone could ever do."
Tanya swiped Christine's glass from the table and drowned her bitterness with a huge gulp of wine.
"No. You'll just take the easy way out instead of fighting for what you want and for who wants you, even though it tramples all over the heart that loves you. But what would you know about that? You would never allow yourself to love like that, Christine. You're too afraid."
Tanya replaced the glass on the table with precise deliberation even though she wanted to slam it down, and then got up and walked away.
* * *
The next morning saw Tanya at the front desk, waiting for Carly so she could check out. This holiday was turning out to be the worst nightmare she could ever have imagined.
Tanya turned to look at Aimee coming down the stairs.
"Hello," Tanya murmured to the girl. She was in no mood to talk to anyone. She just wanted to get out of there.
"How are you feeling now?" she asked.
Tanya raised her gaze to concerned grey eyes. Something softened within her, crumbling her defenses. "I'm doing fine, thank you. Yesterday was just, perhaps too much with the traveling. A good night's sleep is always..." she trailed off mid-sentence, realizing that she hadn't had a good night's sleep, "...restorative," she managed, belatedly. "I feel fine now."
"No, that's not why I asked. Though, of course, it's good that you got over your tiredness from yesterday. It's just that Mom's smashed. She looks like you had an interesting night yesterday. Red eyes and like a bear with a sore head. It took a lot out of me to get her up and down for breakfast."
Tanya's gaze switched to Christine following her daughter down the stairs. It was true that she looked a little worse for the wear, but nothing could take away from the ethereal beauty of her. In a flowing dark brown skirt the color of her hair and a beige sleeveless top, she still took Tanya's breath away.
Tanya slid her eyes down to the luggage at her feet. There was no point looking at what she couldn't have.
"Hello, Tanya," Christine said as she came to stand beside her daughter.
"You're not checking out are you? I thought you were here for a few days?"
"I decided to cut it short," Tanya said abruptly, without any explanation.
"I hope we can change your mind then. Actually, we were wondering if you'd have breakfast with us," Christine said quietly. "I was telling Aimee how we were inseparable as roommates, and I'd like for her to get to know you."
Tanya's heart gave an ungainly leap within her.
"Breakfast?" she managed.
"Yes, if -- if you're not too busy, that is." Christine's eyes skittered away, to the bag at Tanya's feet, and then came back to hold Tanya's gaze. "I would like it if we got back together during this vacation."
Tanya's mouth had gone dry. "Together?"
"During the vacation?" Tanya parroted, unable to process what was being asked of her.
"Yes, and well, after too, I hope. I had been thinking vaguely of moving closer to Aimee while she was at college, and now that I know you live in Chicago... well, that's speaking too hastily though I suppose. I meant, well, as I said, I would like Aimee to get to know my friend. So please have breakfast with us. And perhaps we can also spend the day together?"
Tanya didn't quite know what had changed Christine's mind, but thanked God that it had changed. She didn't know what was expected of her yet -- whether Christine wanted just a no-strings-attached friendship or a holiday fling -- she winced at that word -- or whether she wanted something more. But whatever it was, Tanya's greedy heart would take whatever it could get.
So they had breakfast together and then took off for some galleries that were nearby. The morning was spent leisurely wandering around the various local art shops and small crafts boutiques. They found little curios and cute mementos that they picked up as souvenirs from various places. The lazy island atmosphere caught them in its grip and they just let the tide carry them, not making any firm plans but just doing what they felt like at the moment.
Lunch was a sumptuous spread of grilled tuna wraps, fish tacos and a fried seafood basket that they shared, along with chai tea and ice cream to wrap it all up. After the heavy meal, they set off to a small airport that was reputed to give aerial tours of the island and spent a breath-taking couple of hours looking at the small village and amazing views of the shoals around the inlet.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on a beach as Aimee wanted to try out parasailing. The two women opted out and spent the time lazily sitting and watching humanity go by while Aimee went on her exploration. They saw her go up into the sky until she was a speck against the blue expanse, and when she came back to them, she was all flushed and glowing from her adventure.
The whole day was a dream. It filled Tanya's heart with happiness to see Christine's smile at something Aimee said, to see her laugh at a lost ice cream cone as it melted in her hand and dropped to the ground, to watch her tuck her hair behind her ear in that gesture that was so Christine. It was like they had been together all those years and all that was familiar about the woman she loved was displayed in all its beautiful wonder in the one day. If that was all she could have, Tanya thought, just this one day with Christine, she wouldn't complain.
So she enjoyed every moment she could, immersed herself in it totally, letting go of any reservations and giving her love free rein, basking in the glow that was Christine. With all the natural beauty of the islands around them, all she seemed to see was Christine -- the way her lips turned up at the corners when she looked at her daughter, the way strands of her hair lightened when the sun shone through them or the way her delicate wrists looked when she tried on a bracelet. Tanya wanted to remember each moment, press it into her heart and store it forever.
As the day wound down, they returned tired and happy to the hotel where they carried their loot inside and collapsed on the patio afterwards, enjoying sandwiches they had brought back with them in lieu of dinner.
When they finally retired to their rooms, Tanya finished the day with a refreshing shower and got into bed, intending to read a couple of chapters of her latest holiday book and then go to sleep, but she couldn't concentrate enough on the words to keep at it. Eventually, she laid the book down and just gave herself up to reliving the day in minute detail. Every minute that she had carefully filed away came alive in her memory.
With it came the emptiness that arose from being alone while the one she loved was down the hallway. Try as she might to concentrate on the happiness, Tanya felt a tinge of sadness around it. She tried to dispel the thought. What she had experienced that day had been so good that it should have soothed her aching heart, but it didn't remedy the fact that at the end of the day she was lying alone in her bed.
With a muttered oath, she flipped back the covers and got to her feet. She would take a walk around the second floor deck and try to soothe herself in the calming night. She slipped out into the warm darkness in her pajamas, walking for a while before standing still and leaning on the railing at the edge of the deck, closing her eyes, taking in the peaceful summer night.
She turned and saw Christine silhouetted against the soft light from the open door.
"Hi," she said, straightening up.
"Can't sleep either?" Christine asked.
She shook her head no. "God knows I should be able to, I'm tired enough. All this fresh air and wandering around all day without a rest is exhausting. But try telling that to my mind that refuses to shut down," she chuckled.
"What have you been thinking?" Christine asked, coming to stand beside her.
Tanya looked at her, wondering whether to tell her. "For starters, why did you ask me out with you and Aimee today?" She played it safe.
Christine rested her elbows on the railing and leaned against it, looking out into the night.
"I meant what I said last night, that I was sorry I mean. I've thought hundreds of times what it could have been if I had the courage to do what I should have all those years ago, you know? And you're right; I didn't have the courage to do it."
"No, let me talk. For whatever reasons, I rejected you back then, and in some part of me, I've always regretted that. God knows I have. And then, yesterday, I had another chance... and what do I do? The same thing."
She paused, collecting her thoughts.
"Tanya, I think it's time I faced up to the fact that maybe I should stop thinking about wrong and right and just do what my heart tells me to. I can't forget the way I've been raised and the things that have been instilled in me -- that this, between two women, it's wrong. But this is not twenty years ago anymore and I'm not the girl I was raised as anymore either. I see my neighbors, two wonderful women, raising two beautiful and healthy children. I see that and it doesn't seem wrong to me. No, I'm not the girl I was raised as anymore."