Kim sat at the end of a deck chair, her chin in her hand and watched the late afternoon sun polish the diamond tops of the waves. She'd struggled to focus on her research paper, only to stall irreversibly a handful of sentences later. Which didn't stop her from figuratively banging her head on the laptop for another couple of hours before she admitted defeat. Eventually this gave way to a spell of sitting at the dining room table, arms tightly crossed, staring down ghosts from the past. An hour's furious cleaning in the kitchen came next, followed by at least that long again preparing vegetables and a salad for supper. Finally, she surrendered to her mood and went and sat on the deck of the house that Rachel had built, to stare blankly out at the water.
Kim heard the door open behind her, made out the soft rubber thump of Kerry's wheels hitting the deck. She turned to look. Kerry sat there in her wheelchair, a few yards away with two bottles of wine and two brightly coloured plastic glasses carefully balanced on her lap. She wheeled herself closer, wearing an apologetic smile.
Kim nodded towards the two bottles. "Planning on tying one on?" she asked.
Kerry shook her head as she positioned herself beside Kim. "Actually, I thought maybe you might like to get a little drunk."
Kim gave her a long even look. "I'm afraid I'm not following you."
Kerry grinned hopefully. "It was a hard day for you," she said, "and I know I didn't help. So I thought we could have a drink together and maybe talk."
"Oh, Kerry, I'm not sure I'm in the mood," Kim said.
Kerry pulled the cork from one of the bottles and filled a plastic juice glass. "It might make you feel better," she said. "Oh and don't mind the stemware. They were all I could reach from the chair."
Kim chuckled softly and accepted the tiny glass. "You're relentless, aren't you?"
Kerry smiled. "Let's just say I'm used to getting what I want." She recorked the bottle and put it down on the deck.
"To getting what you want," Kim said and she touched her cup to Kerry's. They drank their wine.
Kim put her glass down and got to her feet as if she hadn't heard a word. "Kerry, your toes are all dusky, I think there's swelling again. We need to prop your leg." She maneuvered the support out and gently placed Kerry's leg on it.
"I'm fine, just leave my damn leg alone, already."
Kim sat down and faced her with a sigh. "So fire me."
"I can't. If it weren't for you, I'd probably still be lying on my kitchen floor," Kerry said flatly, staring at the deep purple wine in her glass. "And I probably deserve to be there. But the wonderful and terrible thing about this world is that we don't always get what we deserve."
Kim looked over at her.
"I don't know how I will ever repay you for all of this," Kerry said.
Kim turned her eyes back towards the horizon. "You don't owe me anything," she said. "I'm here because I want to be here. It's my choice."
Kerry reached out a tentative hand and touched Kim's hair, cupped her cheek. "Is it hard to be here? At this house, I mean?"
Kim closed her eyes for a moment and let the feeling of Kerry's touch soak through her.
"I have no bad memories or good memories of this place," Kim said. "Rachel built it long after we'd broken up. She took me up to see it one time, a few years ago."
"So it was what Finn said about Laura, then," Kerry said. She ached to reach out again, to touch Kim's face, her hair.
"It just sort of triggered it," Kim said, looking down at her hands. They sat in silence for a few long minutes, listening to the waves and the gulls circling over the water. Kerry bided her time, waiting for Kim to speak, sensing she would.
"We met our first year at college," Kim said softly. "We were on the same floor in the dorm and we hit it off right away. Rachel was in music, preparing to become a concert pianist and I used to tag along sometimes to her rehearsal room just to listen to her play while I studied."
Kerry watched Kim's face closely.
"We were pretty much inseparable and deep down, I already knew who I was and I knew that I was in love with her, but I was too afraid to act on it." Kim drank more wine and looked at the shore with far away eyes. "Until one night, just after Christmas break, she came to my room about ten o'clock at night and said, `I want to try something.' And then she kissed me. I was just shocked, you know, blown away by this and she kept kissing me and touching me and I didn't quite know how to respond but in the end, it didn't matter, because she started undressing me and telling me that I was beautiful and that she'd wanted to do this for months."
"Wow," Kerry said, softly. "She knew what she wanted."
Kim nodded. "And when Rachel wants something, she generally gets it."
She pulled in a deep breath and let it go slowly. "We were together for nearly four years. Rachel wanted us to get an apartment together, so we did. She thought I should come out to my family, so I did that, too, which went over about as well as you would expect. And all along, I thought we were really solid, you know? I thought I knew her so well."
Kerry waited, attentively, holding her breath.
"The year that she was graduating from music, I was in my first year of medical school. I had turned down a scholarship at another school so that I could stay with Rachel and I had never once regretted that decision. Things between us were a little hairy and we weren't seeing quite as much of each other as we used to, but I thought that was just regular couple stuff. And then one day, I found two very surprising things. I was late for class and couldn't find my wallet and I needed bus fare. So I went looking for change in Rachel's knapsack. Only to find a receipt for the next year's tuition at a law school across the country, and a half empty box of condoms."
Kerry's face fell. "Oh, Kim," she said.
"Four years," Kim said shaking her head. "Four years together and I thought I knew her." She drained her wineglass and reached for the bottle. "What I didn't know was that I had been just a college diversion, a final walk on the alternative side before she entered the button down real world, which apparently required an Ivy league diploma and a husband, not a lesbian partner."
"How can you stand it?" Kerry asked. "I mean, if she hurt you like that, Kim, how can you even stand to talk to her?"
Kim shrugged. "Part of me can still see all the things I fell in love with in the first place. And then there's the bizarre fact that lesbians never seem to really part ways with their exes. I don't know if we're just emotionally evolved and can see past the petty issues, or is we're just incredibly self-destructive."
"Do you know Laura?" she asked.
"I've met her and she seems nice," Kim said. "And I really do wish Rachel the best, it's just..."
Kerry waited, studying Kim's profile.
"...It's just hard sometimes."
"So, now you know," Kim said suddenly, getting to her feet. "Everything's ready to go for supper. We just need to put the chops on the grill. Are you hungry?"
Kerry nodded. "Yeah, I am."
"All right, I'll get things going."
Kerry turned herself around and followed Kim. "Maybe I can help with something."
Kim opened the door to the house and let Kerry pass through. "You can keep pouring me wine," Kim said.
Whatever you want, Kerry thought as she rolled herself inside.
Kim pulled the bathroom door partway closed and headed for the kitchen, leaving Kerry to an enjoyable, if slightly awkward, soak in the tub. They'd gotten her on and off the toilet with no problems, washed her hair and now, the main priority for Kim was hot, strong coffee. The making of it and the drinking of it. She strode towards the coffeemaker with a determined expression, wondering if it was possible to have an emotional hangover, because she was pretty sure she had on this morning.
She glanced out the front doors, saw the morning surf pounding the shore and a flawless blue bowl of a sky. Another step and she spotted a blonde head, hunched over a notebook, knapsack on the step beside him. Kim veered away from the kitchen and pulled open a front door.
"Hi, Finn!" she said, walking out onto the deck. The sun warmed the top of her head instantly. It was going to be warm today.
The little figure turned, then smiled brightly. "Hi, Kim! I hope it's okay if I'm sitting here."
"It's perfectly okay," Kim said, sitting down on the top step beside him. She took in the math workbook, clenched pencil and a mass of eraser shavings. "Have you been here long?"
"A little while. I'm doing some homework."
"I see that," Kim said. She rested her elbows on her knees. "So, your Gran told you not to knock if we weren't on the deck, huh?"
He blinked twice and gaped at her. "How did you know that?"
"I used to have a Gran," Kim said.
Finn nodded knowingly. "Where's Kerry?"
"She's in the bathtub." Kim reached over and pushed his bangs out of his eyes. "I suppose you've had breakfast already?"
"Well, yeah. Some cereal. With Gran."
Kim nodded. "She also said not to be begging around for an invitation to breakfast, right?"
He sighed and nodded.
"Of course, it's not begging if I offer, is it?" Kim said.
He looked up, hope in his clear blue eyes.
"Cause I'm offering," Kim said as she got to her feet. "And you should probably know we're having pancakes." She picked up his knapsack and headed for the house. "If you want to stay, maybe you could set the table while I fish Kerry out of the tub."
"I can do that," he said eagerly. "If you get the stuff down for me."
Kim nodded. "Deal. Now, tell me Finn, do you know how to make coffee?"
He shot her a look. "Of course not. I'm only nine years old."
"Then it's high time you learned. Follow me." She smiled at the sound of small bare feet padding across the deck behind her.
Kim rinsed breakfast dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher, keeping one ear tuned to the conversation coming from the dining room table.
"Okay, now read number four," Kerry said and it was her nurturing voice, the voice Kim had heard her use with children, with frightened souls huddled on gurneys and with anyone who needed a little loving reassurance as much as they needed emergency care.
"Match the name of the -- the -- p -- polygon with the number of sides." Finn's voice was halting and broken as if he was reading a language he did not understand.
"So what does that mean? What's the job you have to do?"
"I have to draw a line from these names to these numbers."
"Okay, you do that," Kerry said.
Kim shut the dishwasher door and peered around the corner at them.
Finn was standing beside Kerry's wheelchair, one hip resting against the arm of the chair, pencil clenched in his hand, head bent over his work. Kerry's arm was around his waist, as if she was keeping him at the table to finish his work, and she was supervising him carefully. Finn lifted his head. "Octagon," he said, eyes wide.
"You know that one," Kerry said. "Think of the other `oct' word."
His eyes narrowed for only a moment and then he cried, "Octopus! It's eight!"
"You've got it," Kerry said, watching him draw the connecting line.
Kim slipped off to the shower, smiling to herself.
Kerry looked up at the sound of the wind chimes tinkling brightly on the deck. In the distance, she could hear the rhythm of the waves over the other night sounds and it made her want to settle back against the sofa cushions and sigh. So calm. So right. She wondered if there was a moon tonight and she thought, briefly, about going out to the deck to look.
Kim had lit a few candles around the room and now she was sprawled in an overstuffed easy chair, across the coffee table from her, one long leg flung over the arm. She was reading one of those Sue Grafton books -- `D is for Dead Guy' or something like that and from time to time, she chuckled as she read.
Kerry had tried to read a couple of that series but hadn't found them very compelling. Not enough substance. She preferred something with some real detecting, where you paid attention to the science and the body. Like Patricia Cornwell's coroner, Dr. What's-her-name...although even the quality of her books had dipped recently. The stories read like the author needed a serious re-adjustment of her lithium.
She glanced down at her Journal of Emergency Medicine and wanted to sigh in frustration. She'd been trying to read the same article all day and hadn't gotten past the literature review. Her concentration was shot. Probably the pain. And the painkillers. And the incredible curve of Kim's bare leg as it hung over the arm of the chair. God, she was so beautiful, it still took Kerry's breath away.
That had been the hardest part at first -- believing that Kim wanted to be with her, with this awkward, tentative and terminally plain woman. She saw the heads turn when they walked someplace together -- men's for one reason and women's usually for another, but heads definitely turned. Kim just had that effect on nearly everyone -- her walk, her hair, her hands, her eyes, her voice... she just drew you in, further and further, until you were lost.
Kim turned a page and Kerry's eyes flicked up to look at her. That mouth -- how it rested in a tentative smile. God, that mouth on her belly, on her breasts, on her mouth. Sometimes Kerry could still summon up the smell of her, the scent of them together, making love in Kim's bed, their limbs intertwined, their mouths searching each other, the sweet desperation of it. She remembered being dizzy with it all, her head spinning and then just letting herself go, letting herself fall into Kim's arms, knowing she'd be there, knowing she'd catch her.
She missed it more than she could say.
All those weeks last fall, knowing deep down what she was doing when she talked to Kim and laughed with Kim and memorized the shape of her face. Knowing exactly what she was feeling but denying it to herself and then to Kim.
Wanting it so much and yet being terrified of having it.
Her voice is so soft and Kerry knows the moment before she looks up, exactly how her smile will look and what shade of blue her eyes will be in this light.
"Are you okay?" Kim asked. "You looked so serious."
Kerry summoned a smile. "I'm fine. I was just thinking about work."
Kim nodded, a slightly skeptical look in her eyes then turned back to her book.
Kerry let her gaze linger on her for a moment longer, studied the soft and creamy skin of her throat.
That was it, wasn't it?
Being too terrified to have it.
"Kerry, we've been doing geometry for a week now! Can't we do something else? I know it all now," Finn said. He was sitting on a lawn chair at the patio table, his bare feet dangling.
"But your tutor hasn't sent your test yet, Finn. You want to be prepared, don't you?" Kerry said, not taking her eyes from her newspaper.
"But I am prepared," he said. "I really am! Ask me something." He jumped to his feet as if she might ask him to sprint to the water and back.
"Okay." She put her paper down. "What's the difference between an acute angle and an obtuse angle?"
"Acute is less than 90 degrees and obtuse is more than 90 degrees."
"Correct. What do you call an angle that has 180 degrees?"
"A straight angle." He did a little dance. "Ask me something else."
"How many faces on a square based pyramid?" She watched him stare off into the distance, visualizing and counting.
""Five!" he shouted. "Four triangles and one square."
"How many degrees in a triangle?"
"Yeah, you're ready," she said, picking up her newspaper again.
He did an abbreviated victory dance, then hopped back into the chair.
"So what will we work on today?" he asked.
"Again?" He rolled his eyes and let himself fall back into the chair.
"Yes, again," Kerry said. "What did I say about multiplication tables?"
He sighed. "Multiplication tables are like muscles," he said in a singsong voice. "If you don't keep exercising them, they get all soft and flabby."
"Yes indeed, now get out those flash cards we made," Kerry said.
Finn sat back in his chair, eyeing Kerry shrewdly.
"How come I have to exercise my multiplication muscles but you don't have to exercise your crutch muscles?"
Kerry let the newspaper fall to her lap. "I beg your pardon?"
"It's true," he said. "You haven't done your exercises for your arms for three days now and that's why you aren't getting strong enough to use your crutches."
Kerry gave him a look that would have made Malucci cry. He calmly met her gaze.
"You're a pain in the neck, you know that?" she said.
He nodded. "You want me to go get your weights?"
Kerry sighed and tossed her newspaper on the table. "All right," she said, "but we're doing the nine times table today, mister."
"Ooooh, I'm scared," he said and he slipped out of the lawn chair.
At the last moment, Kerry grabbed his arm and drew him back to her. He leaned on her chair and regarded her with questioning eyes.
"What? Do you want me to get something else, too?"
"No, I want to tell you something," she said, taking his hand in hers. "I want to tell you something about why the crutches are hard for me."
"Oh, you mean about your bad leg?"
Kerry blinked. "Yeah, how did you know that?"
"Kim told me," he said. He bent down to scratch a mosquito bite on his leg. "You know the day Kim and I went swimming and you watched? She told me that you really like swimming because your bad leg doesn't bother you then."
"I see," Kerry said. She turned his hand over and looked at the young creases in his palm. "And did she tell you how it got to be my bad leg?"
He nodded, cowlick bobbing. "She said it was just born kind of weak and that you usually use a crutch to help you walk. And she said sometimes it's sore and it makes you tired."
Kerry stared at his piercingly blue eyes while he looked her cast up and down.
"I guess it was pretty unlucky to break your strong leg, huh?" he said.
Kerry chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, it was definitely unlucky."
"You want your weights now?"
Kerry nodded. "And tell Kim that we could sure use two glasses of chocolate milk out here, okay?"
A giant grin. "Okay."
Finn trotted to the glass doors and let himself in, carefully closing the door behind him without a noise. Kim was at the dining room table, typing on her laptop and he made his way to her side.
"Hey, what's up?" she said, when he leaned on the table beside her.
"Kerry wants to know if we can both have some chocolate milk," he said with a Cheshire cat smile, "because she thinks she might get thirsty lifting her weights."
Kim's eyes widened. "Nice work cowboy. That was fast."
He nodded happily. "I said what you said to say and it worked. Except now I have to do the nine times table."
"Ouch," Kim said. "Sorry about that."
"'S'okay," he said. "I can do it."
Kim tousled his hair. "I know you can. All right, you get the weights, I'll get the refreshments."
He nodded, still grinning, and then trotted across the living room, towards Kerry's bedroom.
Kim shook her head and smiled.