A Different Kind of Family Pt. 03bybluedragonauthor©
Katie remained in the hospital for another week, slowly regaining her strength. I felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from my heart on the second day when she opened her eyes and looked at me. The irises were as clear blue as the day I met her so long ago. But my hope was tempered when her eyes closed again, and she immediately fell back into a deep sleep.
At first, Rachel suggested that we stay at Katie's bedside in shifts, always keeping a loved one near and yet granting us the time to go home and rest. It was a logical plan, but I refused to leave my wife's side. I'd already come THIS close to losing her forever, and I wasn't going home until she was going home.
So as it turned out, I was alone sometime around 3am when I awoke to find Katie's hand on the back of my head. I'd fallen asleep in my chair while I pillowed against her mattress. Immediately I stood up and leaned over her, desperate to hold her body in my arms and yet deathly afraid of touching her. A low beep kept pinging from one of the machines in a subtle alert.
Her lips parted and a low keening noise emerged as if she were trying to talk to me but still unable, the worry in her eyes I'm sure a reflection of the concern on my face. But then a minute later a nurse came rushing in, checking various monitors.
Finally, Katie managed to clear her throat enough to whisper, "Hi... Johnny..."
I wrapped up her right hand in both of mine. "Hi, Katie..." I crooned in reply.
I'm still not a crier. Too much Midwest farm boy in me. And yet the tears were streaming down my face. And soon I was sobbing quietly, "You came back! You came back!"
A small smile tugged the corners of her lips. "I couldn't leave you..." she gasped. And then as if the Herculean effort of speaking had sapped all her energy, her eyes fluttered as she fell back to sleep.
For a brief moment, I panicked. But the nurse and the rhythmic beeping informed me that she was only resting. After stroking her arm a few more times, I bent and delicately kissed her forehead.
She'd been able to speak, even if just for a few moments. It was a start.
When the week was over, Rachel organized a little party to welcome Katie home. Lin had been forced to return to school just in time for winter finals of her second year. She knew how much her education mattered to all three of us.
So various neighbors and friendly townsfolk were on hand as I rolled Katie through the front door. She'd be confined to the wheelchair for some time until her body re-coordinated itself.
She endured the constant barrage of well wishes and inquisitive questions for two hours, with me doting on her at every moment. I saw in her the beautiful little girl I grew up with and spent almost my entire life with. In a way, only now did I realize just how much I would have missed her and I couldn't bear the thought of being away from her for even a moment.
After those two hours, I could see the strain of staying awake pulling at her. I turned and thanked everyone for coming and then rolled my wife into our old first floor bedroom. It was strange. Everything was exactly the way we had left it. And yet it was only half-familiar. After all, I'd been sleeping with Rachel for some time now.
And that thought brought me up short. Ever since Katie had seemingly come back from the dead, I'd seen very little of the gorgeous brunette. True, we spoke every day, but the time spent together recently was only a fraction of what it had been before.
Literally, the night before we'd pulled the plug on Katie, I'd proposed marriage to Rachel. Yet here I was, holding Katie in my arms in our bed while the woman I'd promised to marry was outside. She didn't even have Lin with her.
What could I do? My wife, the woman I'd been in love with since we were teenagers, was still alive.
It was the next morning when I found just how stressful the entire situation was for Rachel. I awoke with the dawn, per usual. Katie, of course, was fast asleep and would probably stay that way for some time. Her body would be slowly recuperating and for now her sleep patterns wouldn't be so different from an infant's, gathering nutrition and rest as much as possible.
However, even in her sleep Katie looked happier than I'd seen her in a long while. I hoped it had something to do with me cuddling her at night for the first time since her coma.
Yet as freshly healthy as Katie appeared, Rachel suddenly looked haggard and worn. When we met up in the kitchen, her eyes were puffy and marred by dark circles. That was the first sign that something was wrong.
The second was when I went to embrace her in a friendly good morning hug, the way we'd been doing for years. She clearly hesitated. But I was determined to remind her that just because Katie was getting better didn't mean I loved her any less.
I pressed forward and she returned my hug, gripping my shoulders tightly. There was a fierce clinginess as she wrapped me up and sagged against my chest, a soft whimper coming out.
Feeling reassured, I bent my head to hers puckering for a kiss. That was when the third and final sign reared its ugly head. She leaned up to kiss me, and then at the last moment she turned her head away and my lips pressed to her cheek.
I sincerely doubt Rachel was teasing me. The shuddering sob that shook her body as she turned away and fled outside the door was enough to convince me of that.
"Rachel!" I called, an arm outstretched.
But she was already gone.
I was able to work for almost three hours. I'd been gone away from the farm for over a week and there was a lot of catching up to do. Just because the ground was frozen over didn't mean there wasn't a huge pile of work to do in getting ready for planting season.
The rhythms of our life had to continue. Wake up, do your job, go to sleep. Plant, tend, harvest, sell.
Still, the mountain of work awaiting me was so big it seemed crushingly overwhelming. At least, the workload was too much for me to handle in my current emotional state. So before I hit the three hour mark I retreated back to what I'd always fallen back on, and who I'd always fallen back on.
Katie, of course, was still asleep. Rachel was around somewhere. She'd never leave Katie alone for too long. But perhaps she'd figured out I was coming and promptly disappeared, avoiding me.
And so I found myself sitting in a chair, watching my wife breathing.
In another life, I might've either taken her breathing for granted or just enjoyed the view of her ripe bosom rising and falling. But I couldn't take that for granted anymore.
I couldn't take anything in my life for granted anymore. Once upon a time, I knew that Katie and I would grow old together. Once upon a time, I knew that Katie was leaving me and yet I still had Rachel to love me until the end of time. And now, I wasn't sure what I knew.
I was torn in two directions, paralyzed with indecision. The obvious choice was just to go back to the way things were, back before Katie got sick. Katie was my wife. I was her husband. We lived together and worked together on Rachel's farm.
Rachel was our friend, our confidante, our lover. And yet, Katie was always the clear priority in my life. She'd always been. It was the two of us -- a young, happily married couple -- and THEN there was our friend Rachel, close but outside.
But once my wife had gotten sick, I'd grown closer and closer to Rachel. And in the end, when my previous life was on the verge of being completely over, I'd shared my heart with her. It's not the sort of thing that is given lightly. Nor could it be taken back.
In the end, I came to a clear understanding: I loved Rachel. Did I love her as much as I loved Katie? I couldn't tell. One was the beautiful girl I'd grown up with. The other was a beautiful woman I'd shared my adulthood with. They were different. Our love was different. But I knew I didn't love Rachel any less.
Could I really love two women at the same time?
And just like that, asking myself that question, I knew what I had to do. Life on a farm is pretty black and white. It either grows, or it doesn't. You either love the woman, or you don't. I loved Katie. And I loved Rachel.
Which meant I had to go out and remind Rachel of that.
Katie would understand, right?
I found Rachel in the kitchen. The sink was filled with suds and dirty dishes. She was soaked up to her elbows as she toiled away. Her hair was pulled into an efficient bun and her slightly-worn apron was spotted from a hundred different wet splashes.
She'd never looked more beautiful to me before.
"Rachel," I said softly.
Despite my quiet tone, she half-jumped and managed to splash even more water on herself as she spun in place. "Johnny! You startled me."
"Sorry." I stepped forward. I searched her eyes for some sign of her mood.
But she avoided my gaze. "How's Katie?" she asked, then turned back to her dishes. They suddenly seemed far more interesting than ever before as she turned her back to me.
"She's fine. Still sleeping, of course."
I sighed. "Rachel..." My voice was a soft plea.
She stopped moving, her back to me as she sagged against the countertop. Her head hung down between her shoulders. Rachel had always been a strong woman with fire in her eyes. The last time I'd seen her this defeated had been when Bill, her husband, had died.
I stepped forward, feeling pain inside at seeing her in this state. "I still love you."
"Johnny, don't say that."
"Why not?" By now I was just inches behind her, my breath hot against her ear. One hand gently went up to touch her shoulder.
She shrugged out of my grasp and stalked over to a dishtowel, drying her hands and forearms. "Johnny, you're still married."
I followed her. "That never stopped us before."
"That was just sex." And finally she turned and looked at me, leaning back against the cabinets. Her face was ashen.
I held my arms out to her. "It was more than that. And you know it."
The tears began to trickle down her cheeks. "Johnny, please..." She blinked and then looked to the side, her lips quivering. "I can't love you anymore."
"BECAUSE! It's wrong. I'm wrong. I feel horrible!" She looked ready to crumple into a little ball.
Quickly, I stepped forward and bear hugged her as she began to sob against my chest. "Why?"
She didn't say anything for a long few minutes, just trembling in my grasp. Eventually, the only response she could make was, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
I pulled back just enough so I could look into her eyes, so luminously green and liquidly shimmering. "What on earth are you apologizing for?"
Her mouth twisted into a tortured frown, and she looked down, still hesitating.
"Rachel. You can tell me anything."
"I wished..." her voice trailed off. "I wished Katie had died."
I jerked back, reflexively. And in that moment Rachel's eyes went wide and she started blabbering defensively. "It was just for a moment! I didn't mean it. But I a few weeks ago I made peace with myself for falling in love with my best friend's husband. I mourned over my best friend dying and I accepted it. And I let myself start thinking of my future with you."
She tried to wriggle out of my arms but I tightened and held her. She leaned forward and planted her forehead against my chest, staring downward. "I'm sorry, Johnny. In your time of grief, I began to think selfishly. It was an evil thing to do."
"No." I pulled her head up and forced her to look into my eyes. "No. That's not evil. In a time of darkness you looked for hope. You looked for the silver lining. That makes you an optimist, not evil."
"Maybe, but I realized that what we're doing isn't natural." Somehow, crying it out had steeled Rachel's nerves. She was a strong woman and she could make her own decisions. A harder edge came into her voice. "I shouldn't be with you anymore, Johnny. One man, one woman. Isn't that how it's supposed to be?"
"Since when did any of us care about how things are supposed to be?" I loved this woman and it tore me up to see her pushing me away.
"Maybe we should. But the fact is, you have your wife. I should never have tried to replace her."
"You weren't TRYING to replace anyone. You were just being you and I was just being me. There's nothing wrong with that."
"It's more than that, Johnny. I wanted to love you as a husband. But the fact is, you can never be Bill. You can never replace my husband, Johnny."
Helpless, I let her go. She stood up straight and began to smoothen out her apron and skirt. "It's time we both grew up and accepted our reality."
The next few months were some of the happiest moments of my life mixed with some of the saddest.
Katie was rapidly progressing, getting all her old coordination back and gaining strength every day. She still slept most of the day, but even that gradually lessened and lessened. And even better, her sharp mind was slowly reasserting itself. For months, she'd been unable to truly focus any longer than twenty minutes or so, the strain of trying to process so much information draining her very quickly. But now she was able to carry out a decently long conversation and really understand situations the way she'd been before she got sick.
I rejoiced in every step of progress. And Rachel was right there rejoicing with me as well.
We were still close friends. Since Katie was unconscious half the time and mildly incomprehensive the rest, Rachel was still the one I talked to every day and spent all my time with. But there was a tension between us, in more ways than one. I'd felt like we'd crossed the line beyond friendship and it would be impossible to go back to the way we were.
I thought I was being the man of the house, covering up my emotions and being strong for my family. News that Katie had survived and was on the mend had spread through town quickly. More than one acquaintance expressed happiness for my wife's health and simultaneously tip-toed around the topic of Rachel. I put up a positive front expressing my joy as if everything in my life were perfect. And I thought I was doing a good job of it to.
But while the adults indulged my pride, sometimes it's the younger ones who are more honest with their perceptions. I was picking up some supplies in town when a familiar teenaged boy stopped me in my tracks.
"Hey mister, where's your wife?"
"You were always in town with your wife. The prettiest girl in the world, with the green eyes. I don't see her with you anymore? What's wrong? You don't look so happy..."
I didn't want to bother correcting him. Rachel wasn't my wife. She'd never been, had she? Not really. "She's fine, young man. My wife is fine."
And as the phrase rolled around in my head, I realized that both women came to mind when I said 'my wife'. I could see both them, so beautiful, so caring, so perfect. I couldn't be polite anymore and without another word, I just turned and strode away from the teenager.
I still loved Rachel, and not being able to fully express that was killing me inside. The obvious was that since Katie and I started making love as teenagers, I hadn't ever gone a week without sex until I stayed at the hospital while she came out of her coma. And I certainly hadn't had any sex since then. Katie was in no physical condition for aerobic activity. My body still had its desires and I no outlet for them.
But even more than that, I couldn't run my hands through Rachel's brown-auburn hair. I couldn't kiss her cheek. I couldn't hold her any longer than a friendly hug. It was a torture for me to hold her and remember the intimate caresses of years past and know I couldn't feel them again.
Despite the tension, I didn't want to share any of these problems with Katie. So I never told her. I didn't want her to blame herself. I didn't want to distract her with my emotional turmoil. And I wanted all her focus on getting healthy.
Rachel was united with me in this. We'd accepted our platonic friendship... except for one lapse.
Spring planting was finally done. We were two days behind schedule, the result of my long absence from the field, but with just a little flurry of overtime we'd caught up.
I trudged into the house with Rachel, exhausted and yet feeling proudly satisfied. We'd finished. With comfortable familiarity, she patted my shoulder while congratulating me on another successful season.
She set her clipboards and paperwork down on the table while I sunk into my stuffed easy chair. It had been something of a hot day, and already I was peeling off my shirt and unbuttoning my jeans to let my stomach breath.
Rachel looked over at me while she grabbed two beers out of the fridge.
"Jealous?" I asked as she handed one over and wiped the sweat from her brow.
"A little. You men can strip down whenever and wherever the hell you want."
"Hey, nobody's stopping you." I popped the top and took a long chug. "It's not like I haven't seen everything before."
"True..." She seemed to mull it over for a bit.
Meanwhile, I stripped the jeans off as well, leaving me in just my shorts. Comfortably, I sagged back and let the cold beer ice its way down my throat. I felt good. Rachel lips were tight as she watched me undress, and not without green envy in her eyes.
"Ah, hell." Rachel set her beer down on the table and began unbuttoning her short-sleeved flannel. She still wore a simple bra underneath, but I did feel my mouth watering at the sight of her big cleavage. I really had been a LONG time since I'd had sex.
Still, I wasn't about to try anything. It had taken MONTHS to get to this comfortable point in our relationship where we mutually agreed to just be friends. Well, mostly comfortable. And I didn't want to threaten that tenuous balance.
So when her jeans came off and she was sitting in her underwear, I tried my hardest not to let her body get to me. The wicked grin on her face didn't help me, either. Still, I enjoyed the view.
I drained my first beer and then went to the fridge. Not wanting to get up again after this, I just grabbed a full six-pack and then sauntered back to my chair.
I'd just about finished my second when she emptied out her first bottle. Automatically, I tossed her another, which she caught easily. Little droplets of moisture flung off and splattered against her skin, making her twitch just a little in reflex.
I half-drooled watching her titflesh jiggle with that motion. I also knew that a certain unused part of my anatomy was stiffening up as blood dropped out of my head and lower down my body. And my thin shorts weren't going to do much in the way of concealing it. From the frequent glances Rachel made to my crotch, she hadn't failed to notice either.
And so we sat for the next ten minutes, just eyeing each other up as we finished beer after beer. I couldn't make the first move. I shouldn't make ANY move.
That's what I told myself. At least for the first three beers.
By the end, I'd chugged through five of them in a short amount of time while she drained the other three. And as I dropped the last bottle onto the coffee table, I let loose with a loud, noxious burp.
Rachel laughed at the foul noise, interrupted by an abrupt burp of her own in the middle of it. Now I was laughing with her and she'd begun a full blown giggle-fest of her own.
Now her tits were really moving in that bra, and a sudden fire ignited in my eyes. I wanted her. I desperately wanted her. And I had to have her. Right now.
I moved the three feet until I was kneeling next to her chair, looking right into her eyes. I saw the brief warning there, the statement "We shouldn't do this" etched into her irises. And yet there was no resistance as I leaned forward and planted my lips against hers.