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Jess's Story

Haley broke the seal on her last bottle of good red wine; there was some less vintage stuff in the rack on her cracked marble countertop, but not for tonight. Tonight deserved something better.

The corkscrew was never in the right place, as were many things, thanks to Eric, but she found it with a minimum of fuss, in the cabinet with the spices and pastas and other dry stuff. There was another little hole in the backboard that might have been chewed by a mouse. She looked longingly at the little tin of vanilla frosting and the cake mix, but that was not to be tonight; they were out of eggs anyway. The corkscrew would have to do.

The light bulb in the overhead was burned out again. Maybe it was a short, she thought, as she watched a little spark flicker behind the living room switch. Oh, well. Candles would be better for the mood anyway.

She bent to light the candles on the coffee table, one of them tilted pretty badly to the left - Michaela had set that one there two nights be-fore, and had had a lot too much cheap brandy in her at the time. The glasses ticked softly on the scratched fake-maple-finish surface of the old table, and she thought about pouring the wine, but decided it was too early. Better just to let it breathe, she thought, clasping her hands togeth-er for warmth and to steady her nerves. Big night ahead. Don’t blow it, girl, she told herself.

She lit the four big candles on the mantle, and because she was alrea-dy there, checked out her mascara and lipstick in the mirror. Yep, still purple, verging on black. She thought about going for her eyebrow pencil, but remembered it had been stolen along with her favorite black patent carry-purse at that scummy dive club that their so-called friend Otter had recommended the week before. She still hadn’t gotten her new license.

Haley looked around the living room of her little apartment, checking every detail: the couch there, just so; the coffee table lending a little warmth with the dim reflections of the candles’ flickering lights in its well-worn but still shining surface; the fake-fur throws on the two over-stuffed chairs at either end of the couch, covering up the stains and wear of too many nights spent in college-student apartments. She threw her shawl over her shoulders and wished the damned landlord would turn up the heat a little more, then immediately regretted it. Last winter it had been near ninety in her apartment, and she had almost had to be hospital-ized with heat exhaustion in January because she didn’t think to drink anything but wine for a week. Wine and coffee.

A little smile played across her lips as she paced across the room to-ward the hallway into the bedroom: Eric made the best damned coffee in the state. Usually the morning after, which was a definite plus. That, and the size of his cock.

A frisson swept through Haley as she heard the little ping-click of the mouse trap doing its odious chore: maybe this time, it would be some-thing other than a false alarm. Little bastards. She stalked back to the bathroom: the sound seemed to have come from that direction, and sure enough, there was a little grey body trapped under the heavy spring arm of the trap under the sink. Raiding her tampons for nest insulation again, the little fuckers. There was a neat little hole gnawed in the corner of the aquamarine box when she slid it aside to look, and beside it, the pissing shitting blood-trickling, furry little remains. Ick.

She tossed the body in the toilet, holding it up with two fingers only, flushed, and washed her hands as long as she thought her nail polish would hold out. She hoped the little bastard hadn’t given her Hanta, or AIDS, or cholera, or something awful like that. Ugh.

Another shiver ran through her as she dried her hands and glanced fearfully into the toilet: maybe it hadn’t gone all the way down, and was just floating there, shedding, slowly swirling around the bowl...no such luck. Just gone. No more mousey. Haley breathed a tiny sigh of relief, but still felt the tension in her back muscles; there was more going on than just a little problem with mice tonight.

She couldn’t suppress the memory, though, of the warmth of the thing’s skinny little tail between her fingers - and the impression of a twitch, as she lifted the spring bar.

A key turned in the deadbolt on the front door, and Haley practically raced around the corner to meet Eric. Finally!

She froze, as the door swung open halfway, to reveal Chloe, in all her tall, too-skinny, lugubrious glamour. The space between them melted, lashed by lightning storms. No, that was just tears, wetting Haley’s cheeks, and the candles guttering in the icy draft from the open door.

Chloe stumbled forward, stilting along on her long legs, barely stable on their spike-heeled vinyl thigh-highs, glittery little arcs of golden light gleaming all up and down their sleek length. Chloe. The one that got away.

And then she was in Haley’s arms, all of her long torso shaking as Ha-ley wrapped her sturdy little arms all the way around her friend, mashing her tits into the cold slickness of her jacket, and wept as if her heart would break again, the way it had that night she’d come home to find not Chloe, not Chloe’s clothes or things, just a note.

Then they were tumbling onto the couch, luxuriating in its broken-backed, slouching depths, and Haley was looking her old love up and down, all the way and back again.

Her mascara was streaked all the way down to her chin. That hadn’t happened in the thirty seconds since she’d opened the door. Haley had never had the heart to change the lock, on the off chance that something like what had just happened, might. Apparently, Chloe had kept the key, on pretty much the same pretext.

There was a paper clip holding her beautiful little ankh choker together at the side; it hadn’t been broken when Chloe had lived there. The richness of her leather jacket’s smell hadn’t gone away, nor the subtle prettiness of her delicately long chin, but there were new lines around her eyes and mouth that hadn’t been there three years ago. Some of them were smile lines, and some were not, but every one said they had been long years for Chloe, too. Haley sighed to herself. They had been very long years.

They held each other’s eyes for so long, it was like they were frozen, trapped in a gravity well that led down into one another’s souls. Chloe had always had the most dramatic eyes: big and dark brown and full of warmth and humour. Now they were shadowed, haunted, a little frightened, maybe of what Haley was about to say.

“God, I missed you, honey!” she blurted finally, and wrapped her arms around Chloe’s skinny shoulders, burying her face in the warm patchouli smell of her neck, the smooth skin so milky-white. Her lips remembered the silken warmth of the subtle muscles under the skin of Chloe’s swan-long neck, and the softness of her kisses as they rained down all over Haley’s cheek and neck as well. The warmth of tears washed over them both and the cold air in the apartment was forgotten in the circle of one another’s arms. It had been so long. So lonely. So long.

A silence stretched into nothingness between them, and Haley noticed another silence in the room. When she looked up, Eric was standing against the wall, hands in his jeans pockets, trying not to stare at any-thing, fighting not to scowl, but breathing hard, and not from the stairs up to the second floor. The cd player clicked over to another disk, and the opening strains of `Noah’s Dove’ began softly to fill the air with feminine warmth.

There was something odd about the way Chloe’s hug tugged to the left a little, and Haley felt something against her chest: a fingertip found the little ring through her nipple. Chloe must have gone under the needle recently, by the way she gasped and flinched away from the touch.

“Sorry,” Haley murmured absently. Eric was still not staring, still standing awkwardly, trying not to hug himself under his cracked leather jacket, his fingers white with cold below the tips of his steel-backed riding gloves.

Haley tried to meet his eyes, but his were everywhere else but in the room. He knew how long Haley had withdrawn from the whole world, after Chloe had left, and how long it had taken him to convince her that anyone else - much less he - was the right person for her to love again. In some ways, the fact that he was a fantastic lay made it even harder to admit that she had come to love him, finally. For so long, she had fooled her-self into admitting only that she liked sleeping with him and he had the coolest fucking bike she had ever seen: an old 50’s-vintage Indian, re-stored to a gleaming chrome perfection. He’d bought it off his dad for $200, a rusted and cobwebbed shell, not even a motor in the frame, and put it together with his own hands over the last two years. It was those hands, and that vision, that had finally drawn Haley into his web, into knowing that she loved him as deeply as she had ever loved anyone.

And now, this...she wanted it to just be okay. She wanted Chloe to love Eric, too, for all the same reasons, and Eric to love Chloe, for all her kindness and her generosity and her warmth and her beautiful paintings and....

Eric waved a hand aimlessly in the air, trying to make words come out of his mouth, cleared his throat.

“Happy birthday, Haley. I got you something...” his voice trailed off into another half-hidden scowl. He looked away, jamming his hands deep into his jacket pockets.

A twitch on his cheek came and went. The moment stretched into a silence as heavy as the earth over a grave. Haley felt like she was buried alive in the feelings that were rolling through the room, like the reeking fog off a polluted bay, dampening every sound and every breath.

She found her voice. “I...does anyone want some wine?”

Just a nod from Eric, and a whispered yes from Chloe, and Haley was able to do something: she poured wine into three glasses (there were four set out, but Tanya and Jim probably weren’t coming if they hadn’t come with Eric) and passed them around.

Eric slumped into one of the chairs, finally, on Chloe’s side, so Haley was facing him. He looked like something was broken inside of him.

Maybe it was his heart.

Haley promised herself if it was Eric that was broken this time, she would never abandon him: it had taken him too long to glue her back together after Chloe left. She owed him. Pure and simple.

And then she met Chloe’s eyes again, and they were swirling with mingled grief and longing, a wish that something that had been, would come back to her. That Haley would come back. And Haley knew she would.

She set her glass down briskly.

“I think the only thing to do tonight is go out and get really really drunk. Let’s go,” she commanded, and to her surprise, when she rose, Eric rose, and Chloe offered her long white hands for Haley to help her up. They were going.

It only remained for her to make sure they went someplace good.




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