Author: Chelle Storey-Daniel
Pairing: Mark/Callie Callie/Hahn Mark/Addison
Summary: What happens when a man steps up and offers you everything you've ever wanted at the same time that a woman does? What happens when you're feeling things that you've never felt before and you question everything you thought you knew about yourself. Callie takes a journey that is rocky, wonderful, terrifying, and breathtaking as she realizes that there is one heart too many in her life and that's the one that she will have to break.
Disclaimer: I do not own Grey's or the characters. If I did, this would happen on ABC. :)
Dedicated: To the readers. Thank you! Your comments are much appreciated. :)
All my love, Ange, you rock. :)
Sleep. Sleep is the only thing I can think of and I’m clinging to it despite the persistent shaking on my leg. I have never been less inclined to wake up in my life. There was just enough wine before bed to knock me out and I truly hope to stay that way for a good ten hours. To prove my point, I move my leg and make a warning sound in the back of my throat that says ‘Do not poke the caged tiger’ as I roll away from Erica and snuggle under the cover. I’m back in the delirium, floating toward peaceful sleep when Erica shakes me again, this time a little harder, this time with her hand on my shoulder. "Please," I mumble. "Unless you are dying, bleeding, or in some kind of pain ... do not tempt fate."
"What time is it?"
"Just after six."
I lift my head and look toward the window. "IN THE MORNING!?"
"That’s three hours of sleep, Erica! Good night!"
Blessed silence, peaceful calm, and my head is cushioned just right on the pillow. I’m so comfortable, so calm, so *sated* that I could fall back to sleep with no problem. I had been dreaming of Miami. Jasper, Erica, and I were standing on the beach holding hands and he was telling me, not in his broken voice, but in a strong, manly one, that he was going to be having surgery soon. Erica asked him if he was scared and he replied, ‘No. I’m ready’. I had just asked him if he was going to come back to me and he had replied, ‘I never left’, when I woke up. I want to get back into that dream. I want to look at my brother for a little while longer and listen to him talk because something tells me I’ll be hanging from his every word in the near future. I’m close ... I’m ever so close to the peaceful calm right before sleep claims you ... when Erica shakes me again. I don’t know what will kill me first ... exhaustion or aggravation. "Whaaaaaat?" I whine. Yeah, there you have it. I whine the word, carrying it out like a two year old.
"You asked me to marry you."
"Don’t make me take it back."
"Callie, you asked me to *marry* you."
My back is still to her, but something in her voice forces my eyes open. My eyelids are heavy and I can’t stop the big, loud yawn that roars through me, but I roll over to face her. Rubbing my eyes, I say, "Yes, I did."
There’s nothing but silence so I stop rubbing and attempt to focus, but her face swims in an out of focus. Yes, I’m that tired. I’m the kind of tired that you get from a thirty hour shift when you finally hit the on call room because you can’t possibly make it to your apartment. I’m sure my eyes are bloodshot because they’re stinging so much. I finally dab at them with the sheet and get the watering under control. When I look at her again, she’s got a strange expression on her face. She’s nervously worrying her bottom lip with her teeth which is a sure sign that she’s got something to say, but because she’s looking at the ceiling, I can’t really get a bead on what she’s thinking. "Erica?"
"You asked me to marry you and I said yes."
She doesn’t look like she’s slept at all. Her eyes are wide and a little ball of fear rolls through my stomach, burning it. "You’re not allowed to change your mind."
She turns to face me, tucking the cover around herself and settling in. Oh god. It’s obviously going to be a long talk. "For two days, Cal, ... I was absolutely horrible to you and you still asked me to marry you."
She’s thinking of the fact that we locked horns over her mortgage and again over skydiving. How anyone *think* after a day like we had yesterday is beyond me. My body is just now coming to grips with the helicopter ride, aching and throbbing in bad, bad places. "You apologized. Everything’s fine, Yellow. Let’s go back to sleep."
"It shouldn’t be that easy. I shouldn’t be allowed to lose my temper like that and then just apologize and ... get proposed to."
"I won’t be asking again so -"
"I’m not joking, Callie. This is serious."
I feel like someone injected me with a sleeping pill and it’s a struggle to remain conscious, despite the subject matter at hand. I close my eyes as my body desperately tries to shut down so it takes me a second to locate her arm. I fumble around for it, then pat it a few times. "Shhh. It’s okay."
"Can you please wake up and talk to me!?"
"I will. In about four hours. We’ll talk all you want, baby, but right now -"
"How can you sleep at all?!" she demands. "We need to have a discussion and I can’t wait. I’ve been up all night."
I concede defeat and sit up, arranging my pillows against the headboard. Crossing my arms over my chest, I lean back. "Okay. Let’s talk."
"Your body language says that you aren’t very receptive right now."
"No. The fact that the sun is not up yet says that I’m not very receptive. What’s on your mind?"
"Did I upset you really bad by not jumping?"
"Not *really* bad ... just kind of bad."
Erica is the kind of person who isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with the devil. She’ll speak her peace, bump heads, and get ugly if she has to, but she is never one to bite her tongue. I can almost see her doing that now. Her bottom jaw moves just a little and her pursed lips twitch as she tucks her hands under her cheek and gazes up at me. I give her a look that makes it clear that I’m waiting and she finally sighs and nods, more for herself than me, I think. I listen to her clear her throat before she says, "Don’t love me so much that you let me walk all over you. If I yell at you ... yell back. If I’m acting like a bitch then call me on it and stand up to me because I’ll hurt you if you don’t. It’s who I am. I’m ... hard around the edges and I’m ... mean. So, don’t give me the power to do that."
"You woke me up before it should be legal to tell me this?"
"I woke you up because I can’t sleep with this thing on my mind. What you did yesterday ... after I was so hard on you ... I didn’t deserve it."
"I’m glad I did it, Erica. I love you. I meant what I said." I rub my hand over my face. I need coffee. Or an IV full of adrenalin. The mental exhaustion from yesterday is going to drive me insane if I don’t sleep it off. "You apologized. I accepted. It’s done."
"I feel like you do so much for me and I don’t pay it back. I feel like -"
"Oh my god! If you’re going to have a girl freak out ... could you please do it when I’ve rested enough to handle it?"
"Why would you want to spend the rest of your life with someone who yells at you for trying to do something nice for them?"
"To keep my life interesting?"
"You’re not helping." She brushes a wrinkle off the quilt, then rolls onto her back, gazing at nothing. "I just hate to think that I let you down."
"And you didn’t even argue with me about it. You just ... accepted it."
I lean down and kiss her shoulder, resting my hand on her stomach. "The reason I didn’t argue with you is because I pick and choose my battles. I wanted you on the roof of that building more than I wanted to make you jump out of a plane. If I had pissed you off too much ... you wouldn’t have gone with me."
"So you just pretend that I wasn’t a world class bitch?"
She meets my eyes and I smile at her. "I have two theories ... you have either gone crazy from lack of sleep or you’re freaking out over saying yes. Which is it?"
"I’d never freak out over agreeing to be happy for the rest of my life."
That’s possibly the sweetest thing she’s ever said to me. My smile widens as I give her a soft kiss. "I make you happy, huh?"
"I’m really sorry about everything. I wish I had done it differently." She pushes my hair off my cheek and studies my face. "I had a great time. Everything ... it was perfect."
"Yeah ... it was. Want to thank me again?" I push the cover down a little, tracing her nipple. "Because nothing says thank you like -"
She yawns, covering her mouth. "Can I thank you in about six hours?"
My eyes widen in shock. "You have got to be KIDDING me! You woke me up! We should make the most of it!"
"We’re having a *conversation*."
To drive home the point that I am definitely not getting a physical show of gratitude, she rolls away from me and tugs me against her, inviting me to spoon against her back. I rest my head next to hers on the pillow and resign myself to the fact that sex is not happening. It’s just as well, I suppose. I do want to be able to walk and if she spends any more time with my legs over her shoulders it may be difficult. She laces our fingers together and says, "Do you remember that night you came to my house to talk to me and ... I had company?"
I stiffen involuntarily. "You don’t generally forget something that traumatic."
"I stayed awake all night. I tried to call you, but your phone was off and I contemplated driving to your apartment, but I couldn’t bring myself to face you. I was so fucking ... guilty. I felt guilty as hell even though we weren’t a couple. I’ll never forget the look on your face when you realized that I wasn’t alone." She tightens her grip on my hand. "I saw that look again for a second yesterday in the helicopter. You were staring at that castle out my window and when you looked at me ... you were so damn sad, so defeated. You had done this amazing thing for me and you thought I didn’t appreciate it. Just like you thought I didn’t want you that night when she -"
"Let’s change the subject."
She glances at me over her shoulder. "I cried that night until I was sick as a dog. I did that a lot because of you. When we got back from Miami? I was drunk for four days and then I tried to resign and Richard wouldn’t accept it because I was intoxicated when I called him."
"You tried to resign!?"
"Yeah, Callie, I did. I was devastated. I had fallen in love and had this clear picture in my head of how I wanted my life to be and suddenly it wasn’t happening. I wanted to get as far away from you as I could before I had to see you again. I was humiliated, devastated, broken. And so fucking miserable that I couldn’t breathe. I knew you’d come back to work and be with him right in front of me and I wanted to leave."
I get it now. The way that I felt when I realized that Helen was in Erica’s house is the exact same way she felt when I left the airport with Mark ... when I hung around with him at work. For so long, I’ve held onto my anger at her for moving on, for finding someone else, but I did it first. Even though I never let Mark in all the way, I still let him linger and that was a slap in her face ... no ... it was a beating. "I’m glad you didn’t go."
"I had my therapist on speed dial because of you."
When someone shares something like that with you ... you really can’t reply. You can’t apologize for it, you can’t make amends for it, you can’t do anything except hug the person a little tighter and hang on for dear life. And feel really, really small. I went wrong with her twelve million ways. I hurt her more than anyone should be hurt and I let her down after making her live in the world that I was offering, then snatched away. I’m not sleepy now. I’m miserable and depressed and absolutely horrified that she nearly walked completely out of my life for good. I slip away from her and sit up, running my hands through my hair. "You probably think I have a lot of nerve asking you to marry me after what I put you through."
The bed shifts and she pulls me into her arms, rising to her knees in front of me. "Mostly I think it fucking sucks that you beat me to the punch because I had a plan, too."
I lift my head, stunned. "What?"
She nods, giving me the crooked grin that gives her a dimple in her chin. "I didn’t really wake you up because I wanted to *talk*."
"Excellent. Then we are making out?"
"Are you going to look down at your hand at some point?"
I do just that and I can’t believe what I see. She has put a yellow diamond ring on my finger while I slept. It’s square, surrounded by smaller diamonds, and it looks perfect with my eternity band. Gasping, I lift my hand and run my thumb over it. It’s not obscenely large, but it’s definitely not small and very easily explains why she was juggling her finances. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can’t stop looking at it either. If I were going to design the perfect ring for me ... this would be it. And to think that she had it with her all along ... I could die. "Erica-"
"Look, nothing I attempt to do is going to top what you did for me so I’m not even going to try." She lifts my hand and kisses it. "What I will say ... is that I was going to ask you when the time felt right and watching you sleep, hearing you breathe ... that felt right."
She was going to propose to *me*. Shit. I could have saved myself a few gray hairs and a case of nerves by leaving it up to her! Nah ... I really couldn’t have. I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I still believe in marriage, but even more than that ... I had to make sure she knows how I feel. As I gaze down at my ring, though, I know that she can’t possibly feel the way I feel in this moment. I can only shake my head in shock, torn between being amazed and mortified. Mortification wins out. "Oh my god. I gave you a *watch*."
"I don’t like rings and you know it. This is the most I can do." She holds up her hand, where her ruby band is glinting beautifully in the lamplight. "Besides ... what you said to me is priceless."
I don’t bother telling her that I gave her a Rolex and wasn’t actually comparing the value.
Who knew that the woman who inducted me into a life I never really knew existed could be a traditionalist?
She does very, very untraditional things to me as the sun rises.
I don’t think about sleep at all.
Rule number one of horseback riding:
Don’t fall off.
Don’t fall off because I lack the filter that tells me not to laugh at you and that’s exactly what I do to Erica when she attempts to dismount, gets her foot tangled, and falls on her ass with one foot still in the stirrup. Her horse, who seems to have accepted her inability, compensates for her shortcomings by standing very still. I see his eyes move toward her as he snorts once and it’s him more that her that makes me double over on my own horse and laugh until my sides ache. When I collect myself and sit up, she’s dusting her pants off and glaring at me.
"This?" she says, wiping sweat off her brow. "Is not fun."
"I bet jumping out of a plane looks pretty damn good right about now, huh?"
"Bring that up again and I’m going to make you cry."
"No sex? You’ll die."
"Have hand. Will use."
She scowls at me and plucks her canteen off the saddle. I watch her take a few sips and slide off my own horse. He’s midnight black and keeps trying to run with me. I can’t run him because I don’t want to leave her and Necromancer, my horse, takes offense to that by nipping me on the shoulder when I walk in front of him. It’s been too long since I’ve ridden, I think. My ass is sore, my thighs are aching, and my spine feels like it’s cracked from supporting my back for hours. And I’ve never been bitten by a horse. I yelp, more from shock that pain, and she laughs now, pointing at me. "Ha ha."
I rub my shoulder and move out of Necromancer’s way. He ignores me and walks toward a babbling stream, head down. Her horse, Andromeda, follows him and they noisily lap at the water. I’d like to submerge myself, but that’s not happening. The jeans I’m wearing are already sticking to me and we have a good hour ride back to Claudine’s farm. My t-shirt feels like it’s been soaked with warm water as well and the effect is akin to walking in the dessert with a wet wool sweater on. I fan my shirt and say, "This wasn’t the best idea I’ve had."
"Well ... no."
I flip her a bird and she grabs my finger, biting it. We’re so fucking cute it makes me want to vomit.
Under a copse of shade trees, we eat oranges while the horses graze and she says, "Do you know what?"
"No," I reply. "What?"
"The first time I saw you ... I was at Seattle Grace to operate on Harold O’Malley and you walked past me and I could smell cherry blossoms and I watched you until you rounded the corner and disappeared." She leans her head back against a tree trunk and watches me bite into a piece of fruit. "I wanted to ask who you were, but I didn’t."
"I saw you, too." I tell her, wiping juice off my chin. "You had on red scrubs and I remember thinking that you looked good, bad ass."
"That day that I asked you and Mark out for drinks ... I was really asking you."
"I noticed you didn’t give him the time of day."
"And he lost interest fast. When that little nurse prissed across the room ... he was more than happy to follow her." Erica finishes off her orange and rubs her hand on her pants. "I was sad to see that night come to an end, really. I had never laughed so hard."
"Me either." I nudge her with my shoulder. "Seeing you the next day in the elevator ... I was a little nervous. I didn’t know why then, but I think ... I think I knew that I was attracted to you and I didn’t know what to do with that."
"I knew that I was attracted to you. I could hear you laugh from across the room and my entire body would react. I hated it, too. Because the last thing I needed to do was fall for a ‘straight girl’ who-"
"I think I’ve proven that I’m not all that straight."
She laughs. "Our first time together in Miami ... I think I was more scared than you were."
"I find that hard to believe."
"I only had one chance of showing you what it was like to be with a woman. If I had screwed it up and you hated it ... well, that was on me."
"I was a *virgin*. Nothing can touch virgin fear."
She shakes her head. "You really didn’t act like one. A lot of women ... they won’t ... go down the first time. That’s something that ... well, some women have to work up to that and -"
"I wanted to make you feel the way you made me feel." I take another bite of orange and chew it slowly, remembering the day in question. "I was actually shocked at how ... natural it felt. The first time I had sex with a guy it was awful, but it was something completely different with you. It was like touching you ... tasting you ... I had waited my whole life to do that."
"Were you attracted to girls growing up?"
"No, but I did have a dirty dream about Angelina Jolie after watching Tomb Raider." I shrug apologetically. "This may sound weird ... but I don’t think that you being a woman is what attracted me to you. I think the fact that you’re YOU and you’re everything I could want in a *person* is what made me fall in love with you."
"When did you know that you had feelings for me?"
"I knew *something* was there, but when Addison assumed that we were a couple it started to click. I started to really *think* about you in a different way, but honestly ... I think it clicked in my head all the way when we were on the beach in Miami and you told me about your family. The second you started to cry and I put my arms around you ... I never wanted to let go." My hand is sticky when I take hers but she doesn’t seem to mind. "What about you? When did you know?"
"I was definitely attracted to you because you were a woman, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt when you trusted me to operate on your dad. The way you trusted me, the way you believed in me, the way you *needed* me ... I knew I wanted to take care of you the same way you asked me to take care of him." She leans her head against my shoulder. "I knew going into it that you were going to hurt me ... but I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t control it."
"You knew I would hurt you?"
She nods. "The morning after ... when you were trying to out swim your demons in the water ... I was sitting there thinking that I couldn’t keep up with you. I was thinking how foolish it was to fall in love with somebody who wasn’t sure and how much it was going to hurt me if you decided that I wasn’t for you, but it didn’t matter. I think I would have let you kill me if it meant that I could be with you until the end."
"I never wanted -"
"I know. Me either." She takes a deep breath and lifts her head. "I hurt you back. In that motel room when you came back from Jasper’s birthday party ... I hurt you even worse, I think."
I close my eyes, remembering the cruel, hateful things she said to me as she roughly dug her fingers into my unwilling flesh. We’ve never really discussed it. "Why did you do that?"
"I wanted to hate you. I was desperate to hate you and have you hate me because loving you hurt too much. I thought ... I thought if I could make us both angry enough to walk away then maybe we’d ... survive it." Her eyes meet mine and she shakes her head. "I thought that breaking you would make me feel better, but it didn’t."
"I could tell." I run my hand over her cheek before I give her a kiss. "I’m glad we finally got it right."
"So am I, baby. So am I."
On the ride back to the main house ... the heavens open up and enough rain falls to rival Seattle in a year. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it feels like it. It’s a welcome relief in the blaring sun, too. Two stable boys greet us and take care of our horses as we hop back into our Smart Car and go back to the cottage. Our clothing is so wet that it’s a joint effort to get them off, which is technically kind of fun. We shower, which takes a very, very long time and then the power goes out. It’s just like Miami ... all over again. Erica lights candles while I grab the bottle of wine we had been cooling in the refrigerator. When I join her in the bedroom, almost every surface is covered in flickering candles and it’s beautiful. She’s beautiful when she turns to look at me, blowing out the match as she does.
This is the person that I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my life with. I guess, when it comes right down to it ... being with her is a choice and I chose wisely. I love everything from cowlick she has trouble taming to the way her feet look a little too big because of her skinny ankles. I love her sense of humor, her smile, the way she calls me on my shit before I can really even start anything ... and most of all ... I love the way she loves me. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bi ... or whatever ... when you choose *wisely* ... the world is suddenly a better place and all that matters is that in a sea of millions ... there’s one person who rides life with you. There’s one person who looks at you the same way you look at them.
She holds out her hand and opens the bottle (this is due in large part to the fact that I shot her in the ass with the cork the last time I opened one) and we toast to nothing and everything. When she inclines her head toward the bed, I set my glass down on the dresser and step up onto the first step beside it. I feel her hands on my hips and turn, smiling down at her. My breasts are level with her mouth and she takes her time, tasting one, then the other. There’s this thing she does with her tongue when she’s between my legs that I haven’t quite figured out, but as I watch her lap at my nipple ... I figured it out. She pressed her tongue flat against it, then undulates, rolling it and the breath catches in my throat. I can’t wait to try that move on her. I can’t take my eyes off her when she moves to my ribcage and my hand goes into her hair when she bites my hip, sucking hard enough to leave a hickey.
I don’t mind.
When she pulls away and whispers, "Lie down" ... I comply, but I’m shaking when I climb the second step and trip over my own lust.
She chuckles and waits for me to roll onto my back, which I do instantly so I can keep my eye on her. She kisses my ankle as she climbs up the steps, then my calf, then my knee. I hold my breath when her tongue runs up the inside of my thigh, but she doesn’t stop at my center. Instead, she skips over it and traces down my other thigh, kissing my knee, then my ankle. When she runs her fingertips over the sole of my foot I jerk away and shake my head ... I nearly have to be sedated just to get a pedicure. She grins devilishly and reaches for my other foot, but I’m too quick for her. I sit up and grab her around the waist, pulling her on top of me. For a while, she looks at me with such intensity that I don’t know what she’s thinking. One hand smoothes my hair back from my face, spreading it over the pillow, while the other supports her weight. Finally, I can’t take it. "Erica?"
"The only thing that compares to being here with you ... in Italy ... is being at home with you. I don’t have to go on vacation with you to feel like I’ve been somewhere amazing. You take me somewhere new every day."
"Get out of my head," I tell her. "I was thinking the exact same thing the other day."
She smiles and the hand that was sliding through my hair makes a slow descent down my body. She barely brushes against my center and I react instantly, hissing. She captures my mouth in hers before I can say anything ... not that I was going to. Not that I could. It’s so hard to string words into sentences when someone is touching you with so much skill that they know every nerve to hit, every button to push, every spot that makes you squirm. Her hand is enough ... it’s always enough ... but when she starts to move down my body for a taste, I grab her arm and shake my head. I twirl my finger so that she understands what I want and she turns, her hand never leaving me. It’s so much easier to do sixty nine on a large bed. As she lowers herself over my face, I reach up and guide her, my fingers digging into her backside.
She said that some women don’t do this at first ... my answer to that is WHY!?!
You don’t know the joy of being with a woman until you let her dangle from your mouth and smile against her most intimate places. I feel her do just that to me when I tell her to do ‘it’ again. The ‘it’ in question is that tongue trick and when I do it back to her ... she nearly collapses on top of me. I’m nothing if not a quick study. This? This is the good life and when I slide my fingers into her and listen to the sounds she makes ... I know that what we came through isn’t nearly as important as where we’re going.
The past is the past.
The future ... is ours.
The rest of our time in Italy flies by.
I talk Erica into jet skiing again, but her arms feel too good around me to do a three sixty and throw her into the water. She spends far too much time slathering me with sunblock and not nearly enough time naughty touching me under the water when we wade out, but it’s still fun. We visit the market again, this time on a quest for souvenirs for friends and family and we finally see the Medieval Torture Museum she mentioned. She loves it. I don’t. I may have mentioned that my threshold for pain is non-existent and just looking at the different contraptions kept me up all night (but it was not wasted time ... if you catch my drift). Days come and go at lightning speed, but we don’t rush to overfill them. We leisurely walk through every hour instead of running into the next and soak up enough of the culture and the people to carry Italy in our souls for ... well ... ever.
Our best day (engagement notwithstanding) is spent with Claudine, learning how to make wine. We pick grapes all morning, smash them with our feet, and then watch the process from start to finish. Claudine takes a photograph of us in our aprons, our purple feet bare, and then presents us with a bottle that boasts our image on the label. It could be my favorite souvenir thus far ... unless you count the ring on my finger. From what I can tell, wine making is a lucrative business because there are plenty of employees and so much state of the art equipment that my mind boggles. Looking at Claudine, with her wiry, masculine build and raggedy clothing, you’d think she was scraping together everything to make ends meet, but that’s not the case. She’s like me, I think. Money is more fun when you spend it on other people.
To thank Claudine for letting us stay at her Abbey, showing us her business, and staining our pedicures, Erica invites her to dinner and we’re shocked when she arrives with a guest. Her companion is easily approaching her seventies and the walker she uses has plenty of dings and scratches, telling me that she moves around a lot, despite her limitations. Her snowy white hair is artfully curled, flowing long over her shoulders, and her big, brown eyes are crinkled around the edges when she greets me. There’s something about the liver spots on her face and the undiluted kindness in her smile that speaks of wisdom. She’s wise, this one. There’s a depth to her that you can see without looking for it and I know before she speaks that a person could sit at her feet and take notes on life ... and come out better for it.
"This is Angie," says Claudine, taking her floppy hat off and hanging it over the coat rack. Her hair, silver and blond, has been slicked back into a crooked ponytail. "She never misses a chance to get out of the house."
"Hi, Angie," I say, holding out my hand. "I’m Callie."
The old woman clutches my hand in her own gnarled one and nods at me. "I know which one you are. Claude painted a lovely mental image of you two."
Her accent is not nearly as thick as most of the ones Erica and I have encountered on our vacation, but it’s still there, still lilting her words around the edges. I introduce Erica, who shakes her hand as well, and then we sit down in the living room while we wait for dinner. It’s odd to find yourself entertaining someone in their house. Granted, it’s a rental, but it’s still peculiar and I’m suddenly self conscious of the open suitcase in the corner of the living room that Erica’s been slowly packing. My things are spilling out of it because I couldn’t find a decent shirt earlier. I’m messy, but I don’t want anyone to actually SEE that I’m messy. I listen as Angie quizzes Erica about Seattle and the old woman seems to hang on every word, asking for details about Pike Place and Seattle Grace. She finally sets her rheumy eyes on me and says, "How do you like my country? Has Italy been nice for you?"
"It’s been amazing," I reply, grinning. "It’s so beautiful here."
"You found peace, yes?" Angie asks.
"Definitely," I assure her. "And we needed it."
Erica reaches over and takes my hand, squeezing it. "Yes ... we did."
Claudine puts her wine glass down on the table and says, "It’s still not accepted very easily in the States, is it? Same sex couples?"
"Not like it should be," Erica tells her. "We’ve been called our fair share of names and it seems like every time you turn on the television someone’s protesting gay marriage or holding up a sign to tell us that God hates us."
"Your parents," Angie says, looking at me. "Do they accept you?"
I think maybe it’s because she’s so *old* that I don’t mind such personal questions. Or maybe it’s because I have a sinking suspicion that I’m looking at a living, breathing mirror and she has probably walked several hundred miles in my shoes. Or maybe I’m walking in hers now. "My father does. He has no problem with us being together, but my mother ... she’s hurt. She doesn’t understand."
Claudine shakes her head. "Mothers can be our best friends or our worst enemies."
Angie nudges her with her shoulder. "Our children would never say that about *me*."
Claudine puts an arm around her, looking mischievous. "That’s because you only ever played good cop bad cop with *me*."
Erica and I exchange amused expressions and I say, "So ... how did the two of you meet?"
"My family invited hers for our annual wine tasting fair," Angie says, patting the other woman on the leg. "And she was dirty, dressed in *pants*, and didn’t have one iota of table manners. Why, she belched right in front of me and I almost fainted."
"You were so damn uppity, you deserved it," Claudine shoots back. "Good God, it was the middle of summer and she had lace up to her chin, dainty little gloves on, and stockings so thick you couldn’t even see her ankle bone through them. She didn’t even have the gumption to break a sweat and I was sitting there boiling."
"It takes quite a bit of energy to force your body to make so many uncouth noises, Claude."
"It takes even more to be so damned *proper*." With a toothy grin, Claudine reaches up and rubs the curls over Angie’s shoulder. "I touched her hair like this, though, in the kitchen and she slapped me as hard as she could. I was as shocked as a person could be. I’d never been struck before and I definitely didn’t think such a girly little thing could pack such a punch."
"I’d never had anyone touch me so brazenly, either," Angie interjected. The two women laugh at the memory and Erica and I have to join in. I can picture it in my head. Tomboyish Claudine and lady like Angie, trading barbs and blows over the dinner dishes. The affection between them is obvious and it gives me hope, makes me want to strive toward what they have. It makes me want to sit next to Erica when she’s gray and I’m probably not because there will always be Miss Clairol ... but share our story with someone, too. "The little jackass," Angie continues, turning her chocolate eyes on me, "decided to remain in Italy and fooled my neighbor into thinking she was a boy. I didn’t find out right away. I kept hearing about ‘Claude’, who was so strong and so fast when it came to picking grapes that no one could compare. I even heard that Claude had challenged old Gus Angelo, the biggest bully in town, to a fight and won. I had to see if for myself and -"
"No, you wanted to come and lure me to your parent’s farm if I was really that talented."
"Well, when I saw who it was ... I certainly changed my mind." Angie scowls at her partner, then closes her eyes at the memory. "This fool had cut off all her hair and was running circles around the men, cracking her knuckles and acting like a mongrel. I took one look at her and yelled at the top of my lungs."
"What did you yell?" Erica asks, chuckling.
"Well, of course I yelled that she was a low down, good for nothing girl." Angie laughs. "And Claude threw her basket of grapes in the air and took off running."
"Why did you run?" I query, shocked that Claudine would turn down the opportunity to stand her ground.
"It was a different time back then, honey," Claudine replies. "Women had their place, men had theirs, and I had violated that and blurred the lines. I had lived in their workhouse, saw them scratching their hairy asses, and listened to them talk about despicable things. If they had caught me ... why, there’s no telling what they would’ve done to me."
Angie nods in agreement. "And I felt so damn guilty for doing it that I chased after her, ripped my new dress that was -"
"All the way from Paris, France," Claudine supplies. "Which I *still* hear about."
"And then," Angie plows on, undaunted. "I offered her a job at my father’s winery and let them all think that she was a boy. Because her hair was massacred and she stayed so dirty, my parents didn’t realize who she was. I should’ve told on her, though."
The timer goes off in the kitchen and Erica and I get the table set. The Hawaiian Chicken is well received and after Angie gushes about the flavors for ten minutes, I say, "So, Angie, why should you have told on her?"
"The scraggly little she-devil wormed her way into my heart when I wasn’t looking." Her eyes fall on Claudine, watching her with such adoration that I can barely stand it. It’s amazing to see something so ... pure. It’s amazing to know that Erica and I traveled so far, but still found a place that can feel like home ... and people who can show us who we can become. "Before I knew what happened to me ... I couldn’t get enough of her. I spent all my time down at the winery and everybody said that I was head over heels in love, but I didn’t see it right away."
"It took her father dying." Claudine talks with her mouth full of chicken. Her table manners haven’t improved and I think it’s so endearing that I barely notice. "And me stepping up to run the winery to make Miss Priss see me for what I was?"
"Which was?" Angie asks.
"Brilliant. Accomplished. Capable." With a twinkle in her blue eyes, Claudine adds, "And pretty damn nice to look at, despite my massacred hair."
"How did people take it?" I ask, feeling like I’m intruding on something insanely private. "When you -"
"We didn’t," Claudine tells me. "Ever. We never had the big coming out party or proclaimed that we were together. We couldn’t. And people around here ... if they suspect it, they never say as much. We are just two women working together in a man’s world. But we’ve still been blessed ... our kids are -"
"Claude’s brother went to prison and we took his kids when her parents asked us to." Angie’s pinky is in the air when she sips her wine and I can picture her at the dinner table the first time they met. "We raised them as ours and here we are. Old, but happy. No regrets. Unless Claude regrets the fact that her hair never did grow back right after she took a blade to it."
"Nah." With a wave of her hand, Claudine dismisses the notion. "I can’t even regret that. I had a good life."
"How long have you been together?" Erica inquires.
"It was fifty years last month that I met her," Angie says, finishing off her wine.
"But it wasn’t official until she pulled me into the barn and had her way with me," Claudine offers. "So, it’s really only forty nine years, but who’s counting?"
"Claude! For heaven’s sake! Such talk at the dinner table!" Angie shakes her head and I can see the spitfire that she must have been, no matter how much lace she wore. She catches me looking and says, "How about the two of you?"
"Not long enough," I tell her and listen as Erica fills in the blanks.
It’ll never be long enough.
I wish I could have met Erica when I was still a teenager so that I could celebrate fifty years with her one day.
She’d have to live well into her nineties.
God ... there’s never enough time.
Claudine notices my ring during dessert and Erica and I take turns sharing our engagement story. We don’t do it nearly as much justice as they did their own tale, but Angie seems to enjoy it anyway. She claps her hands together and pretends to swoon when I talk about the opera that took place below us. Claudine, who actually reminds me of Cristina now that I think about it, can only roll her eyes before she goes out back to smoke. Angie watches her go with that same look of affection that I noticed earlier.
I make a silent vow to myself that no matter what comes next ... I’ll still be looking at Erica that way when I’m old, wrinkled, and weary.
I may not have fifty years, but what I do have ... I’ll make sure we live to the fullest.
When Angie and Claudine leave, Erica and I clean the kitchen. We’re both quiet, lost in thought as we mechanically move around each other. Finally, I run into her and she hugs me, hanging on so tight that I’m sure my ribs nearly buckle. I return the embrace just as enthusiastically and when she takes a step back, her eyes are watery. "What’s wrong?" I ask.
"They have an epic love."
"I know. It’s almost as good as ours, huh?"
"Let’s take a walk."
"Right now." She dries her soapy hands on a towel and pulls me after her. Neither of us bother with our shoes and walk barefoot across the property. The field of sunflowers look ghostly, ominous under the pale moonlight, but it doesn’t stop her. We’re both wearing shorts and souvenir t-shirts and I wonder if her skin is crawling as much as mine when the stalks rub against her flesh. I listen to the rustling and start to say something about bats when she stops walking and turns toward me. I can see her intention like an open book in front of me.
Apparently she took what I said about sex in the sunflower field to heart.
Because here it is.
And we’re apparently doing it.
She tugs my shirt up and over my head, letting it drop onto the ground at our feet. I do the same ... my hormones forcing me to play along even though I’m getting a creepy Children of the Corn vibe. I forget all about that when I take her bra off, however. There’s something almost surreal about seeing someone in all their glory with no bright lightning, just hints of light, splashes of shadow. The moon is hanging over us, casting some kind of spell that makes her skin look even milkier than it usually does. The stars are glistening like diamonds, the wind is blowing just enough to lift the ends of her hair, and when she steps out of her shorts ... I’m gone. She watches me intently, waiting for me to finish undressing and when our clothes are heaped on the ground ... she lets her head fall back and breathes deep.
I attack her neck at once.
She attacks my ass with the same intensity, raking her nails over it and making me hiss.
"Do you know how lucky we are?" I ask as my skin tingles, as chills race up and down my spine. "We don’t have to *hide* ... us. From anyone."
"I’ll never hide again."
I let my hands move over her waist and pull her against me, relishing the way her body feels when it’s pressed against mine. Our breasts touch, our hips touch, our legs instinctively move together in a sensual way that never fails to take my breath away ... and I feel her heart pounding against mine. Or maybe I’m just imagining it. Either way, when we sink down ... we do it as one ... and I fleetingly think that she has found the softest earth possible ...
But I realize that I’m really feeling her ... and I’m sinking ... sinking ... sinking ... deeper than I’ve ever gone before.
It’s a wide open space, but I’m lost in her.
"Hey! How’s it going?"
I fumble around on the end table in search of the clock, but it’s no use. My hands are still asleep. "Is something wrong?"
"No, not at all. I wanted to call and see how your vacation is going?"
"We’re flying out today. I’m in mourning."
"I feel your pain. Do you have any idea how much fun I’ve had babysitting your cats? They’re ugly little shits, but I want one. Mark likes the beige one. He sleeps on top of him."
"Mark sleeps on my cat?"
"No, idiot! The cat sleeps on *him*."
"Ohhh." I reach out to touch Erica, but the bed is empty. Shrill phone ringing. Check. Bladder full. Check. Being alone. Check. Not the best way to wake up by any stretch of the imagination. "So, how are things with you and Catman?"
"He ate my cooking and survived."
"Did he eat anything else?"
"Callie! You’re dirty! And yes ... yes he did." I hear her laugh and have to smile in response. It’s been so long since she’s been this happy. "So, you guys are heading to Nebraska for a couple of days, right?"
"Yeah. We’ll be home late on Friday. Thank GOD we have until Monday to recuperate."
"How has the ... er ... food been in Italy?"
"Is that a euphemism for sex?"
"Obviously," she replies. "You were ... starving ... for a while there."
"I’ve had the best sex of my entire life and I have no complaints," I assure her. "How are things at the hospital?"
"Well, Richard has pissed off several people."
"Stevens is back. Granted ... she’s on probation and can’t come out of the clinic, but she’s back, Callie, and that’s not right." Addison sighs on the other end of the line. "What happened with Duquette was bad enough, but all consuming love can fuck you up so I gave her a pass. What she did to YOU, though ... that’s blind hatred."
The fact that Izzie Stevens has her job back makes me wish that I was only beginning my vacation again. Yes, I’d rather face the nervous breakdown of proposing to Erica all over again than have to deal with Stevens. Yes, I told Richard I was out of the equation and didn’t want to give any input, but at the same time ... I don’t want to have to listen to the drama surrounding her either. "Great," I reply. "Can’t wait to get back."
"Don’t worry. Mark has made her cry twice and I’m pretty sure that the bucket of puke that Yang dropped on her shoes was intentional."
"Let’s not talk about her," I say, pushing the cover back and padding to the bathroom. The sun has come up and I smile when I gaze out at the sunflower field. I spent about three hours there ... and enjoyed every second of it. "Let’s get back to you and Mark. Are you guys back together?"
"I think so. He told a drunken dickhead at Joe’s that I was his woman and that he’d cut his tongue out is his said another thing to me. Which ... really ... felt like foreplay so we nearly got arrested for sex in the car."
"Nicely done, tramp."
"I thought so, too." Addison laughs. "I’m glad you’re having a good time. Did you take plenty of pictures?"
"We did. Too many. We almost need another suitcase for film alone."
"Film is so passé. Go digital. Wha - what are - ARE YOU PEEING!?"
"No, I’m pissing, Addy."
"That is so RUDE. Who does that on the phone!?"
"I’m not pissing ON the phone and if I had waited another second ... I would have drowned."
"OH MY GOD! YOU EVEN FLUSHED!"
"Aren’t you glad you called me? Now you can die happy. You know that my body is still functioning *and* you’ve heard Italian plumbing."
"You’ve been drinking too much Italian wine, dumbass." She’s at the hospital. I can tell because I hear someone paging her over the intercom. "Shit. I think my patient just went into labor. Be careful in Nebraska and have a safe flight, okay?"
"You got it."
"I can’t wait to see you again. I’ve missed you."
"I’ve missed you too, Addy. A lot."
"I gotta go. Love you."
"Love you back. Seeya soon."
My nose tells me that Erica is cooking so I locate my robe and slip it on. It hasn’t gotten much use. I pad down the spiral staircase and pause at the bottom, watching Erica crack eggs into a bowl. She does it one handed and if I tried that ... I’d make a mess. I do great to crack with two hands and not get shell all over the place ... and by that I mean in the floor, in my hair, under my boob. She does it with ... God, I’m sick. It’s so fucking mentally deranged that I can find something as simple and MUNDANE as *eggs* ... enthralling. I can actually have an internal dialogue with myself about Erica Hahn’s culinary abilities and stand here like I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m going to make an appointment with the psychologist because this can’t be normal. It just ... can’t be. I’ve become *that* girl in the movies who bakes (read: burns) cookies and puts them in a wicker basket (with a checkerboard liner), then obsesses over everything while I walk fifteen miles to deliver them to the object of my affection. I hate me. I disgust myself with this ... adoration thing.
Makes us all assholes.
She smiles when she sees me and says, "This is our last morning here. I’m misty eyed just thinking about it."
"I know. I hate to leave." I move across the room and kiss her on the neck. "Wanna come back next year?"
"Depends. Are you going to do that thing in the sunflowers again?"
"Then it’s a date." She winks at me. "Did I hear your phone?"
"Addison called. She finally snagged Mark."
Erica stops beating the eggs. "She better hope she didn’t snag him in OUR bed."
I wrinkle my nose. "Ew."
My offer to help cook is politely declined and I’m sure that it’s got everything to do with my lack of skill and not much to do with generosity on her part. I’m sure I’ll be cleaning while she showers. Unless ... I join her. She’s too quiet while she scrambles the eggs and I watch her while I sip my orange juice. There’s a look on her face ... and I can’t tell if it’s because she’s sad to go or if there’s something else on her mind. She catches me watching and gives me the answer before I can ask. "Why don’t we skip Nebraska, Cal? We can home instead. I don’t know about you, but I miss our cats and really want to sleep our bed. You know, after we change the sheets. And possibly buy a new mattress."
"We’re going, Yellow."
"There’s really nothing to see there."
"I want to visit your parents."
Her lips tighten into a thin line as she hands me my breakfast. She sits down across from me, pushing her bacon around. "It’s a long drive from the airport. And we’re already going to be jet lagged so -"
"We’ll sleep at the hotel."
Her eyes meet mine, defiant and determined. "I don’t want to go."
Her nostrils flare and I can see the tightening in her jaw ... a tightening that usually makes interns scatter. I’m not an intern, however. I don’t break eye contact and I lift my chin, daring her to answer me. "Because," she finally says. "I’m ashamed of where I come from and I’m ashamed that you’ll see it."
"Well, I’m ashamed of not seeing it. I want to know everything about you. It’s my job."
"I’m not the same person who left that place."
"Then what’s the problem?"
She picks up her fork and pushes her breakfast around. I can see she’s weighing her words carefully, picking and choosing and carefully phrasing her fear. "I just ... hate it there."
"I’ll be with you. We’ll make it fun."
"It is physically impossible to have fun while visiting a graveyard."
"Tell me you’ve never ... CALLIOPE TORRES! That is sacred ground!"
"Yeah, and the dirt got into sacred places." I lick jelly off my finger, which really wasn't intended to be sexual, but she smiles knowingly. I pick up a napkin and use that instead (because I’m very FOCUSED), saying, "You started the worst fight we've ever had because you wanted to be alone on the anniversary of your parent’s death. I haven’t forgotten it."
Her smile is gone as rapidly as it appeared. "I apologized for that."
"The perfect apology is taking me with you when you finally say goodbye. You shut me out once. Don’t do it again." I scowl at her. "Because if you don't let me tag along ... I'm going to stand you up at the altar."
"What makes you think I'll be the one waiting at the altar?"
"Because I don’t intend to be."
A forkful of her eggs hit me in the face.
Stunned, I wipe my cheek and have to actually see the egg on my fingers to believe she went there. I don't bother with a fork ... I smear the other half of my toast over her forehead and leave it stuck in her hair.
Any final sightseeing we hoped to do is out of the question.
The only thing that takes more time than cleaning up the kitchen ... is erasing the evidence of our food fight from her ... with my tongue.
Angie comes out onto the sprawling front porch of the main house when our car crunches to a stop. She's so pretty, bathed in the midday sun, that I don't have to wonder what captivated Claudine. Dressed in a peach colored, modest dress, her brown eyes shine like beacons when she beckons for Erica and I to join her. We bought a gift for them the day before ... just a small token of gratitude for the story they shared and the hope they filled us with. The old woman hugs me close, then hugs Erica and accepts the gaily wrapped package Erica holds out. The silver candlesticks are well received and Angie lifts the scented candles inside, inhaling deeply. Claudine joins us, making a fuss over our gift like it's much more than it really is. I’d wager that Claudine cares more about who should could hit with a candlestick and whether or not she could polish her fingerprints off the silver. She’s a tough one, Claudine.
"Come back soon," Angie tells us, clasping both of our hands in hers. "We see people come and go all the time, but I'll miss you."
I pat her on the arm. I’m semi-tempted to see if her hair feels like the cotton balls it resembles, but I really don’t want her to slap me. "You have our number. Please stay in touch."
Erica hugs her again and I realize that this ... this is really the closest thing to a grandmother either of us have. Angie smiles at me over Erica's shoulder and then Claudine says, "Aw, to hell with it! Give me a damn hug, too."
I do just that, laughing. Did I mention that Claudine is like Cristina? She's an observer. She stands off to the side of life and watches, but doesn't touch much, doesn't leave fingerprints on many people. She’s left them on me, though. And I may never wash them off.
Erica and I stay until the last possible minute ... and she pauses in the driveway so that we can wave from our matchbox car when we finally drive away. The lump in my throat will burn for hours ... long after we're over the ocean and halfway home.
There's a sisterhood that exists with women like us. Angie and Claudine are pioneers who speak about their love in intimate settings, keeping it black and white. Erica and I are new to the land ... at least *I* am, but we live in color, not hiding at all. There's an instant respect for where they've been and they're in awe of where we're going. I look at them and see every laugh line that love etched on their faces. I look at them and feel envious of how much they shared in their life.
They look at me and see how much I still have in front of me.
Yes, there is a sisterhood and I'm in it.
I'm in it with no regrets, no qualms, and no desire to turn back.
It's funny that I used to long for a man in my life so much that I saw love with George where it really didn't exist. I was so starved that I wouldn't admit that I was never as important to him as he was to me.
And now ... I'm so loved, so appreciated, so damn ... cherished ... that the only thing I long for is one more day, one more hour, one more lifetime.
I've worked through my issues and arrived at a place where I could not ask for more in my love life.
Now it's time for Erica to walk through her own personal wasteland and unlock the pain of her past once and for all.
I'll be there. Every step of the way ... I've got her.
But if her silence on the flight and groan of misery when we don’t miss the connection to Nebraska (even though she dawdles so much that we barely make it) is any indication ... my work is cut out for me.
I've worked hard to get *here*. So I'm strong enough to work even harder to pull her *there*.
Obstacles dot every horizon all the time, but they aren't nearly as scary when you have someone beside to help out. Whether we have to go under, over, around or THROUGH it ... we'll be just fine.
The most normal relationship I've ever had is with her.
Isn't it ironic?
I've rewritten this chapter about twenty times and never could get it to a good place. I'd still love to hear from you, though. Because you guys keep the muse flowing with your feedback. Believe me ... I need it because the next chapter is seriously heavy and seriously depressing me and I'm only 5000 words into it. :)