- Publisher: Ladylit Publishing
- Available in: eBook, Paperback
- ISBN: 978-988-14204-1-1
- Published: June 15, 2015
True love deserves a second chance.
Leigh Sterling and Jodie Whitehouse share a passionate connection. Unfortunately, their differing visions of the future force them apart. Life goes on, but their attempts at other relationships fail to measure up to the love they once shared.
When they see each other again after more than a decade apart, they realize they may be soulmates. Can they ever find their way back to one another?
Find out in this emotional and passionate novel by best-selling lesbian romance author Harper Bliss.
Word count: 62.000 words
Jodie has always looked too damn glam to be a social worker. Look at her. She’s only just gotten out of the shower, and already she seems to have this sheen to her. A sheen I used to find irresistible—all glossy and inviting and yes-I-will-let-you-do-that-to-me—but now it shrouds her in a distance I can’t seem to bridge anymore. As if she’s made her decision already.
On top of that, she knew I didn’t want to come here. Not to Gerald’s place, with all its man things, and a few of Troy’s toys always lingering, no matter how many times the cleaner comes before we arrive for the weekend—I guess even people who get paid to tidy get tired of the never-ending task of stowing a child’s toys.
Jodie has her arms wrapped around her body, clothed in the light-blue silk robe she always wears after taking a shower. She looks out over the beach, as if answers are there, in the sand that has been brushed clean overnight by the ocean. Answers to how to resolve this always-returning argument between us, the one that’s been wearing us down for months.
“Hey,” she says, finally, turning away from the window. “Did you manage to get some sleep?”
I wonder how I must look to her now. And how would Gerald feel about his ex-wife’s partner sleeping on his Chesterfield sofa in nothing but a t-shirt and panties?
“Some.” In the beginning, when Jodie and I had just gotten together, it was a thrill to come to her ex’s lavish Hamptons beach house for a dirty weekend. But now, six years down the line, when she suggested coming here as a sort of last resort it felt more like she was trying to tell me something. The way she also does sometimes without words. Her face all brooding and unreadable, although I don’t need to see her eyes anymore to know that it’s over.
I could have slept in Gerald’s room—or Troy’s—but deciding to sleep on the sofa last night felt like a defiant stand. Now, in the cold hard light of day, it feels like a decision made by someone foolish enough to put stubbornness before a good night’s sleep. At thirty-three, I’m not old by a long stretch, but, all the same, my bones prefer a soft bed.
It’s only Saturday morning, and already we’re in the middle of this fraught stand-off. How will we get through the next twenty-four hours without biting each other’s heads off?
“Coffee?” Jodie asks. Her expression is not unfriendly but her face is not exactly folded into a peace-making one either. And I can’t help myself. I suspect she’s naked underneath that robe, and I still feel it—I still want her—but too many ugly words have passed between us and neither one of us knows how to take them back.
“Sure.” I sit up straighter. Stare at the coffee table. I have to hand it to Gerald; he has excellent taste in furniture. If we got along better, I’d ask him where he got this table, as a way of making small talk and being civil and all that, but Gerald and I have been wrapped in a silent, mutually agreed upon mild hostility since we first met, and I never had the inclination to do anything about it. I’m not in a relationship with Gerald, so why bother?
“Can’t you try a bit harder?” Jodie used to ask me in the beginning. “If not for me then at least for Troy’s sake?” I can still see her shake her head at me. “You can be so ruthless sometimes.”
“My mother is called Ruth,” I would tell her. “And as long as she’s alive, I will never be Ruth-less.” The first few times I used that line Jodie actually giggled and dropped the subject.
I get up and sit at the breakfast bar, looking out over the ocean, which is savage this time of year, the waves loud and brash—the way I like it.
“The waves are like you,” Jodie once said, “they never know when to stop. They just keep on going and going. The tide may retreat twice a day, but it always—always—comes back with full force.”
“That analogy does not add up at all, Jodes,” I’d said. “You’re just babbling.” And I had grabbed her, pushed her down on Gerald’s sofa, and shown her what it was like to just keep on going while she looked out over those waves.
“What would you like to do today?” I ask. Her hand trembles a bit as she pours me a mug of coffee and she spills a few drops on the counter. Neither one of us cares.
Disappear, her face seems to say. It’s so pale, it seems all pigment has drained from her body. Jodie’s always pale, what with her Irish blood and skin, but I can tell this… phase we’re going through has worn her out. If only it were just a phase. “Go for a walk, I guess.” She actually shrugs when she says that, as if it doesn’t matter anymore what we do. “Maybe have lunch at Gino’s.”
I shake my head before sipping. The coffee is strong, the way we both like it.
“What?” Jodie stopped bothering to keep the irritation out of her voice months ago.
“What are we even doing here?” I know she’ll blame me again for actually saying something, but I can’t stand this anymore. All the love I had for her, everything we’ve built between us over the years, is not enough anymore to bear this.
“You know why we’re here.”
I look up from my coffee. Try to find something inviting in her eyes. I come up empty. “It feels to me like we’re here for one thing only.” I pause, ignoring the nervous contractions in my stomach. Something I learned to do in my first year in court. It’s harder to do when a relationship is at stake. “To break up.”
Jodie’s eyes narrow. “If you want to leave me. You’re free to go.”
I purse my lips together and nod in mock understanding, my chin going up and down in the most passive-aggressive way I can muster. “Sure. Because if this ends, of course I’ll be the one leaving you and you will have nothing to do with that.”
Jodie just sits there shaking her head. “I can’t change you, Leigh,” she says after a while. “I want what I want, and you want what you want.” Her voice breaks a little. We’ve said these things to each other before—in different versions, with alternative words—a million times, as if they need to be said a certain number of times before a decision can actually be made. If we’re waiting for the pain that comes with them to go away, we’ll have to wait until that ocean outside freezes over.
“Let’s get out of here.” I don’t want to stay in this house with her. I don’t want to spend my weekend drowning in this tension and not finding my way to the surface. My lungs are full of spite and anger and resentment already. Maybe it’s better for her if she can hate me. After all, I’m the bad one here. I’m the woman who has the audacity to go through life without any apparent desire for motherhood. “Or better yet. I’ll go.” I’ll pack up my things and be out of our apartment by the time you get home tomorrow evening, I want to add, but I can’t say the words. “It’s time,” I say instead.
That she doesn’t burst into immediate, passionate protest is like a knife in my gut, but it’s not as if this was ever going to be pain-free.
“I think it is, as well. This is killing us one day at a time.” We don’t look at each other. In my case, for fear of seeing something in her face, her demeanor, or anything else, that I could latch onto. And I’m tired of fighting. Of coming up with arguments that won’t win her over, because some things are just how they are, and no reasoning stands up to them.
But can this really be how it ends? The pair of us drinking coffee in Gerald’s house? After all the shouting has been done, and the harshest words have been spoken, can it just be this calm conclusion that we draw?
“Okay. I’ll go.” I don’t get up though. How can I? How can I walk away from Jodie Whitehouse? The woman who has given me everything. Why can’t I be a bit more accommodating? After all, I don’t mind Troy being around. It’s not as if I detest children. It’s not as if Jodie expects me to become a full-time mother. But it feels as if I have to give up a crucial piece of myself to stay with her and honor her wishes. Her fierce desire to have another child clashes so ferociously with my own wishes and it’s laying bare a fundamental difference between us—one that can’t be overcome by a thousand conversations, or the best sex we ever had in our lives.
“Leigh.” Her leg touches mine for a split second, but is gone before I even get the chance to register her touch properly. “I—” But Jodie has run out of words, too. We knew months ago that words wouldn’t save us.
“It’s fine.” This time, I do get up. Gerald’s place has floor heating, so I don’t even get punished with cold tiles under my feet. On the surface, it may look like I’m walking away scot-free, all limbs intact, no skin broken. Beneath my ribs, though, my heart breaks because I know what I’m walking away from. I know all too well, yet, I can’t stay. Because staying would only mean more of this, more of this chipping away at what we once had, at each other’s confidence and essence. It has to stop sometime. It stops today. At 11.34 a.m. on Saturday, the twenty-second of April of 2006. The day Leigh Sterling and Jodie Whitehouse cease being a couple.
And we were a good one. We had it, that unidentifiable chemistry, that boundless passion, the knowledge that we saw each other for who we were and that, just maybe, this might be forever. But it wasn’t enough. And the mere fact that even a love like this, a love like ours, is not enough, scars my soul here and now. I head to Gerald’s guest room—the room Jodie and I have always used—where I left my bag last night, just to pretend that there might be a possibility of us sleeping in it together.
I don’t bother showering; just throw the few items that made it out of my bag back in, slip into a pair of jeans, a washed-out gray hoodie, and my trainers. I glance at the bed Jodie slept in. The sheets are twisted and the pillows scattered, indicating she had a rough night. Nights before break-ups usually are. It was a quick drive to get here last night, because no one goes to The Hamptons when the weather is gray and heavy like this, and the icy silence in the car was only broken by muffled radio voices and nostalgic songs from the oldies channel. I guess our break-up was already a done deal and coming here just a formality. As if we couldn’t breakup in our home, as though the many memories we made there would stop us. The sight of our bedroom door, some paint peeled off the upper right corner. The picture of us above the fireplace, of Jodie and me in Hawaii, when, perhaps for the last time, we looked immeasurably happy. I’d just left the D.A.’s office for Schmidt & Burke and we’d splashed out. Maybe I should never have left the District Attorney’s office. Perhaps me crossing over to the other side was what kick-started this entire process.
But I know I’m only fooling myself. I know very well what has brought me here, bag in hand, ready to leave this weekend place where we never really belonged anyway. It’s me, and the immutability of what I feel inside, of not being able to meet Jodie halfway in this—not even a quarter of the way really. I know what I’m walking away from, however, and it hurts so much I find it hard to put one foot in front of the other, to leave this room in which we haven’t slept together for a very long time. We came here to talk, to smooth things out, or, at least, that’s what we told ourselves. It’s not as if we could say, “Hey, let’s go to The Hamptons and finally get this break up over with, shall we?”
But then I somehow find it in myself to start walking. I descend the stairs for the last time—because why would I ever come here again? Jodie is in her robe, her hands clasped around that coffee mug that should be empty by now. What do we do? How do we say our final goodbye? I can’t just walk away. Not after six years with her. There needs to be a gesture of closure.
“This is it, then,” Jodie says, fingers wound tightly around the mug. Outside, the wind howls, and I feel its echo in my heart. My heart wants to scream. I want to cry. But I need to hold it together, need to make it to the car in one piece.
“Will you be okay getting back?”
But Jodie is a public transport girl, and she can train her way out of anywhere. She nods. Why am I prolonging this agony? Her hair is almost dry now. I always envied how she can wear it long and never has to do anything to make it look fabulous. “It just dries into perfection,” she used to say when she was feeling frivolous and overly confident.
Will she walk toward me? Or, because I’m the one who’s doing the leaving, should I make a detour? I’m by the door already, but only because the stairs end there. Again, I’m frozen in my spot. Am I doing the right thing? I recognize this last question as panic. Last-minute nerves. Fear. What am I going to do without her? Without our apartment to go home to? Where am I going to stay? And what will she tell Troy when he gets back from Gerald’s on Monday evening?
“Bye,” Jodie says, her voice a dagger in my heart.
“Yeah.” The way we’re doing this stands in such stark contrast to how we were as a couple that, perhaps, it’s fitting. Perhaps this is the only way.
I reach for the handle and open the door.
I watch the door for a long time after Leigh has let it close behind her. As if she might come back. Change her mind. Undo everything. As if, on the way to the car, on those few steps between the front door and the driveway, something magical has happened, and an idea has sparked in her head that will save us. But we—Jodie and Leigh—are not to be saved. So, I just stand there, looking at a shut door. It’s a beautiful one. Large in a classy, designer way, and shiny in… ah, hell, I don’t know which tint of brown. All I know is that Gerald’s money bought it and that Leigh never wanted to walk through it.
I’m still clasping my hands around this mug. I can’t let go because it’s the mug I drank from when we shared the last coffee of our life together. Everything I do now has this ring of finality to it. Or, if you look at it differently, of new beginnings. The start of my life without her.
Fuck, I love her. And I’ve let her go. Does she know how much I love her? How much she has changed me? Six years is hardly a lifetime, but it sure as hell feels that way now. And what am I going to do with myself, right now? I chose to come here to The Hamptons so I feel like I should stay.
I wait a few seconds longer but the door remains shut. I heard her car leave the driveway minutes ago. My wishful thinking is based on pure fantasy. And what if she did walk through the door again? I still couldn’t take her back. The first thing that changes in this tableau vivant of Broken-hearted Woman in The Hamptons I imagine myself in, is the mug slipping from my fingers. As if all strength is draining from me and even an empty cup is too much to hold. It falls to the floor, but it doesn’t break. It’s empty, so there won’t be any stains to wipe away either. My legs give out next. I crash to my knees—shattering the way the wretched coffee mug wouldn’t—and I know I will have bruises, but what does it matter? Leigh is gone. Then the tears come in waves, like the ocean outside.
We didn’t even hug. I can’t even remember the last time we touched. Have I really become so cold that I let her leave without even the briefest of touches? Tears rain down on the floor, next to the unbroken mug. I try to wipe them with my robe, but silk is not very absorbent. Fuck, I scream on the inside. What have I done to us? Because Leigh might be the one who walked out, but I’m the one who made her do it.
Still, it’s not as simple as that. I spread myself out on the floor in a dramatic fashion, arms wide, head to the side, as if I’ve fallen and can never get back up without the help of someone else. Without her.
I first saw her in court. I could tell she considered herself a bit of a hot-shot, even though her only task that afternoon was to sit there and observe. She’d only just joined the D.A.’s office, but I could already tell she was the kind of person who wouldn’t keep on fighting the state’s battles for the rest of her life. Even in a cheap pants suit, she had some glitz about her. Her hair was longer then, with sideways swept bangs that covered her eyes when she didn’t brush them aside. She pushed her hair away from her face a lot that day.
After the court hearing, her colleague, Dan Mazlowski, quickly introduced us, but they both had other places to be. Leigh shook my hand with determination, like a woman who knew the importance of a strong handshake—like a woman working in a man’s world. If I registered on her radar at all that day, she didn’t let on. It would take five more weeks until we met next.
I saw her exiting the courthouse, coming down the steps with sure strides, as I made my way inside. She just nodded. I’ve always remembered that she wore pinstripes, and I considered that an odd choice. I only allowed myself a brief frivolous thought of another woman that day. I was still getting used to being a divorced woman, living in a small apartment on the Upper East Side, sharing custody of a child. My mind was overflowing with babysitter schedules and how to make my modest city paycheck last until the next payday. And there was Alexander to consider, the boy on whose behalf I was testifying that day.
The main reason for my divorce from Gerald was crystal clear to me, but I simply hadn’t had the time to pursue anything. Nevertheless, despite our very brief introduction a few weeks earlier, and this quick, courteous nod on the steps, something did register with me. I didn’t realize at the time, but looking back, I had to acknowledge that somewhere deep inside, I already knew I wanted to see her again.
The next time I saw her was at my office. There was that handshake again and I noticed for the first time how broad her hands were, as if slightly out of proportion with the rest of her. Her fingers were long, like her, but also wide, and so strong.
“I’m here for the Cindy Latimer case,” she said, her brown eyes resting on me. “Good to see you again, Mrs. Dunn.”
“Oh, it’s Whitehouse. I guess my name change hasn’t made it through all the channels yet.”
She tipped her head a fraction to the right. “I guess not,” she said, and only then let go of my hand.
“Please, call me Jodie.” She was wearing pinstripes again. I escorted her to my cubicle, where we huddled so closely over a case file I could smell her perfume. I recognized it as DKNY, one of my personal favorites.
“I guess I’ll see you in court then, Jodie,” she said, a broad smile on her face. I felt it then. I didn’t have much experience at picking women who were into women out of a crowd, but somehow, with Leigh Sterling, I knew. Built-in gaydar, perhaps. If only it had worked when I looked in the mirror before I married Gerald.
“I look forward to it.” I extended my hand and suddenly I couldn’t wait for her to take it in hers again. As she did, her smile transformed into a crooked grin.
“Poor word choice, perhaps,” she offered. “Considering what happened to the girl on whose behalf you’ll be testifying.”
I was so taken aback, I didn’t immediately know what to say. I still stood there, slightly entranced by this woman who opened up rather a few possibilities in my mind, that I could only mumble, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be unprofessional about it.”
She gave my hand one last squeeze. “Day after tomorrow, then?”
“See you there.” I watched her walk off.
“Earth to Jodie,” Muriel in the cubicle next to me whispered. “Come back to us, please. The New York City Administration for Children’s Services needs you. The children need you.”
“Shut up,” I hissed, feeling caught out.
“You’re smitten.” Muriel couldn’t let it go.
I sat back down, hoping that disappearing from her sight would put a stop to her teasing.
“You don’t giggle like that when Dan comes to see you, Jodie. And you especially don’t stutter like that.”
I wheeled my chair back so as to get a good look at her. “I wasn’t stuttering.”
“Hm-mm.” Muriel rolled her eyes at me. “Sure, girl. Believe what you want. I’m just an innocent bystander, that’s all.”
“What do you think of her?”
“Of her?” She pursed her lips together. “Hot piece of ass, for sure. As for what I think of you, Mizz Whitehouse… I think you want a slice of that.”
I shook my head. “Please, Muriel. Must you be so crass?” I said it in the voice I used to impersonate our supervisor.
“I must.” Muriel stretched her legs and rested her feet on an overflowing trashcan. “I must also discuss this further with you over drinks after work.”
“I can’t tonight. I have Troy.”
“Then you and Troy must come to dinner and we shall discuss this further while Francine helps him with his homework.”
“He’s five, Muriel. He doesn’t have homework yet.”
“Then she’ll build a fort with him. Whatever. God knows the woman is broody and she loves that child. Do it for her.” She tapped her thumbs together. “And you’d better know who to call to babysit when you and the sexy ADA go on a date.”
The ringing of Muriel’s phone interrupted our conversation. Before she picked up, she pointed her forefinger at me, as if to say that what she’d just proposed was non-negotiable.
Our first date happened weeks later. After the Cindy Latimer case, Leigh rushed to another appointment and we barely had a chance to say goodbye. A similar case put us back in court together, only this time Leigh didn’t win and instead of being placed in a state facility for his protection, Joey Williams, the child in question, was sent back to his family.
“Drink?” was all she said.
It was October, and the city was cold and wet. I’d stepped in a puddle on the way over to court and one of my shoes was soaked. Troy was at his dad’s and when I looked into Leigh’s eyes to say “Yes, please” I already felt a little bit better about the unfairness of the system and its repercussions on Joey.
My instinct and Muriel both turned out to be correct. Not even fifteen minutes into our date, Leigh said, “Just so you know, Jodie, I’m into women and I like you.”
“That’s very forward.” My heart was thumping beneath my thick woolen sweater.
“I mean,” she continued, “I could be all coy about it. Throw out some feelers. Probe gently into your personal life, but after the afternoon we’ve had, I don’t really have the energy for games like that.”
I nodded pensively, as if mulling over what she’d just said, while really I’d been dreaming about a moment like this—in various degrees of hotness—for weeks. From the get-go, she was someone whose presence in my life, no matter how small and infrequent, I couldn’t shake. It sat there, at the back of my mind, coming to the fore out of the blue, and often late at night when I couldn’t sleep.
“Additionally,” Leigh hadn’t finished yet, “I get a rather distinct sort of vibe off you. I wouldn’t be saying all of this if I didn’t.” She ended with a wide smile. One that shot straight through my flesh, to body parts untouched for years.
“Well.” I looked into my glass of cheap wine. Despite its acid taste, it was nearly finished. “I guess I’d better buy another round then.”
“I’d much rather do something else with you than sit here and get drunk,” Leigh said.
“Like what?” I asked, already mesmerized by the twinkle in her eyes.
Her response came in the shape of another smile. She bit her bottom lip, and I wished my teeth were doing that to her.
I pull myself from the floor, avoid the view of the ocean, and go straight upstairs. I pull some clothes out of my overnight bag, and as I turn, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. As expected, my eyes are red-rimmed, my skin blotched, my cheeks puffy. I can’t help but wonder if I’m looking at a woman who has done the right thing. Because if it was right to let her go, then why does it hurt so much? Why this urge to undo? To go back? To sacrifice, now that it’s too late?
But I’m a mother. First and foremost, I am Troy Dunn’s mother, and I want another child. It was one of the first things I told Leigh six years ago. Nothing is more important to me than my child. And I will have another. Was she not listening when I said that? Because I said it often, and in a clear voice. Of course, I waited. I needed to know where things were going with her first. Needed Troy and her to get acquainted. Needed to build our life together first.
Judging from the woman looking back at me in the mirror, I’ve gone and destroyed that life together. Yet, despite the blistering pain, somewhere beneath my ribcage, a sense of relief builds. I’m free now. No more fights. No more energy wasted on trying to convince her that this may actually be something she wants as well. No more talking to deaf ears. I know what I want. I can see it so clearly. Troy and I in Central Park pushing a pram. The look on his face when I first bring his brother or sister home. The wonder in his eyes. The first time he realizes he’s someone’s big brother now.
Over the past year, those thoughts have become my fantasies much more than anything I wanted Leigh to do to me.
I push a finger into the pillowy flesh of my tear-stained cheek. These signs of heartbreak will fade away over time, as will the most acute pain. I’ll pull myself together. Go for a walk on the beach alone. Return to the city tomorrow. Go to work the day after and pick Troy up from his dad’s in the evening. I will hug him, and explain to him why Leigh couldn’t stay with us, and then I will hug him some more—for both our benefit. And our life will go on without her, until it’s not just me and Troy anymore, and we welcome a newborn baby into our home.
I nod resolutely at the woman in the mirror. Her eyes brighten a tad. Then I catch a glimpse of the bed behind me, the bed Leigh didn’t even sleep in, and it hits me again that she’s gone. For good.
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