She climbs the stairs to her apartment, pleasantly tired and warm, one arm slung around her bulky duffle bag, the other balancing the bike that hangs heavily from her shoulder. As she thuds up the last few steps, breathing hard, she first sees the huge bouquet of flowers resting majestically in front of her door, then hears faintly through the thin wall the voice she hasn't heard in five days, a span of time, she's been trying to convince herself, which is really not very long.
She pulls the bunch of keys from her jacket pocket, and as she rushes to extract the door key and fit it into the lock, she drops the entire fistful onto the wooden floor with a clatter, stoops to retrieve them, hits herself in the head with the front tire of her bike, and throws out her arm to steady herself as she begins to fall, cursing quietly the entire time. Setting the bike on the floor and propping it against the wall, she slides the flowers to the side, retrieves the keys and finally manages to fit key to lock and lever the door open. Breathing hard, she stumbles into her living room and lets the duffle bag fall to the floor.
Kerry's voice is made high and tinny by the answering machine speaker. "...try you again later. I'll see you sometime in the next few days, I hope. Ok, good-bye."
Kim launches herself across the room and grabs the phone.
"Kerry?" The line is dead.
She hangs up, reconnects, and dials.
"County General." Loud voices collide and intersect in the background.
"Hi, Randi. This is Dr. Legaspi. Is Dr. Weaver available?"
"Oh, hi! How're you?" Kim hears the distinctive snap of gum, then a loud clatter and Randi's voice, muffled this time. "Fill this out and wait over there." A softer voice says something that ends on an interrogative high note. Randi's still-muffled voice replies. "How should I know? She didn't look sick to me." Kim tugs impatiently at her gray track suit, smoothing and straightening it as she imagines Randi standing behind the admit desk, activity swirling around her, balancing a stack of charts with one hand and taking notes with the other, the receiver pressed tightly between ear and shoulder. "Ok, listen," she continues. "If you expect me to start giving medical advice, I want a raise. And I mean it." Now her voice comes clear and loud again. "Sorry, Dr. Legaspi. Things are kinda crazy here. She's not back yet."
"Oh. Ok, thanks anyway," Kim says. The line goes dead.
Back from where?
She dials Kerry's home number, waits through 5 rings, then gets the machine.
"Hi, Kerry. I was just coming in the door when you called, but didn't get to the phone fast enough. Thank you for the beautiful flowers! I'm looking forward to seeing you. Give me a call again, when you have the chance."
Kim cuts the line then chucks the receiver onto the couch with a frown and hits the light switch so she's no longer standing in darkness, still feeling warmed and calmed by the sound of Kerry's voice, but at the same time, irritable, uneasy. Brow furrowed, she stalks back into the hall and grabs the bike, rolls it through the doorway and props it against the nearest available wall space, then goes back for the flowers, all dark purples and pale yellows. There's a card. She tugs it open. The message is short: love, Tommy. She rolls her eyes, shakes her head, and smiles. Then remembers the message she left Kerry, and frowns again.
She pulls the door shut, sets the flowers on the table beside a tidy stack of junk mail, and takes a deep breath. In these days without Kerry, she's done her best to keep herself distracted, not only seeing her usual clients, but returning phone calls, catching up on e-mail and paper work, putting in extra hours at the shelter, meeting with friends who have been teetering precariously on the edge of neglect. She even got a hair cut. She runs her fingers through the unfamiliar dense shortness. It's nice to feel, for the time being at least, that her life is back in order.
A loud knock disrupts the quiet of the apartment. Kim jumps, presses a hand to her rapidly beating heart, and pivots toward the door again. Squinting through the peephole, she sees a close-up of red-dyed hair. "Quit leaning against my door, Tommy," she says loudly. The head jerks back.
"Well then open up, for Chrissake. I'm exhausted."
"How did you get in here, anyway? This is a secure building."
"Give me a break."
"You think after you dump me and disappear for an entire year, you can just give me flowers and then suddenly you're back in my life again?"
"Open the goddamn door, Kim."
Kim pulls the door open. Tommy strolls in, hands in the pockets of her loose and faded Levis. She sets her battered canvas shoulder bag carefully against the wall--though it's small, Kim knows it holds at least two computers and various miniature audio equipment worth thousands of dollars, and probably weighs about 50 pounds--and they're grinning at each other. Kim catches her in a fierce hug, her hands sliding beneath the unzipped leather jacket and wrapping around the smaller woman's slim shoulders.
Tommy rests her head on Kim's chest, Kim rests a tilted cheek against the side of Tommy's head, and they stand like that for a few moments, holding each other. Kim runs her hands up and down the length of Tommy's back, then steps away, her hands still resting lightly on the other woman's waist. Her grin becomes a tender smile as she studies Tommy's tired face, her mussed hair, the dark circles under her eyes.
"So, how's Detroit?" she asks, finally turning away and moving toward the kitchen, grabbing the flowers on the way.
"A living model of urban decay." Tommy shrugs out of her jacket and throws it on the floor beside her bag. Kim re-emerges with the bouquet in a tall glass and sets it on the table. Tommy yawns and stretches, exposing a sliver of pale midriff as her shirt rises up, and Kim draws a swift finger across the soft skin. Tommy flinches and giggles and they fall into each other's arms again for another quick embrace. When they pull apart, Tommy walks across the room and slumps onto the couch. Kim follows and stands behind her, puts her hands on Tommy's shoulders and begins to knead tired muscles. Tommy closes her eyes and sighs.
"Detroit," Kim says again. "It's a major urban center with a rich history. There must be something good about the place."
"Oh, sure. There's a wonderful Diego Rivera mural in the art museum--a scathing visual condemnation of capitalism in general and the auto industry in particular, but of course the museum is barely ever open for lack of funding and just sits there among the ruined buildings of downtown: old brick houses with boards over the windows, and enormous office buildings completely deserted." She winces as Kim's probing fingers hit a tender spot. "Since it's the 'motor city' and Chicago is only 'hog-butchering capitol of the world,' you'd think Detroit would win the battle of cool hands down, but Chicago is so much a better place. 'Mo-town.'" She shakes her head sadly. "It's like everyone there has given up--like they're just sitting around waiting for the Pistons to make a comeback, or something. It's pathetic. And even worse, they do not appreciate the avant-garde."
Tommy takes hold of one of Kim's hands and pulls to the side, guiding her around to the front of the couch and onto the cushion beside her.
"Rust and crumbling pavement," she continues. "Deserted downtown streets and broken glass. The entire place is in such an advanced state of decay, it's really quite spectacular." She balances her right ankle on her left knee cap and sinks further into the couch. "Speaking of which, this place is still a dump. Got anything to eat?"
Kim shrugs. "We could order something. Want a beer?"
Kim doesn't move. "What happened to the band?"
"Fuck the band." Tommy puts an arm around Kim's shoulder and draws her in closer.
Kim lets her arm fall across Tommy's slender torso. "I heard about your latest show from Rita--the chickens and the yellow paint. Sounds like it was pretty exciting. Sorry I couldn't be there."
Tommy purses her lips, remembering. "The paint really worked well, but the chickens were a mistake. They were too distracting. The music, which was fabulous if I do say so myself, didn't get the attention it deserved."
Kim smiles at her and she smiles back. Tommy's eyes, Kim notices for what might be the thousandth time, are the same pale blue as her own, but the irises are rimmed dramatically with black.
"For the next show, I'm planning to do something with fish." Tommy runs her fingers slowly through Kim's shortened hair. "I'm thinking jelly fish. A big tank of them, center stage." She nods to herself and continues to stroke Kim's soft hair as Kim continues to stare into her eyes, lulled by her touch, and gently smiling. "Jelly fish are placid. Tranquil, even--they don't leap around and make funny noises. They don't panic when surrounded by loud music and a crowd." Her hand drifts down and lingers on Kim's cheek. "How is it possible that every time I see you, you're even more beautiful?"
Kim shakes her head and moves away. "Cut the crap, Tommy."
Tommy lets her hand drop to the cushion between them.
"You know, you've got a lot of nerve, making a pass at me 20 minutes after you walk in the door after being gone for an entire year."
"Oh, don't be so dramatic. It's not like I broke your heart."
"How do you know that?"
Tommy rolls her eyes. "Besides, I just spent 5 hours on the Greyhound. You know how public transportation turns me on."
Kim laughs quietly. "Yes, I do remember that about you."
Tommy sighs. "So, are you still determined to live the life of a nun?"
"No actually, I'm determined not to. I'm seeing someone again."
"Nope. An old flame."
"No!" Kim pauses and looks away. "Kerry."
Tommy stares at her, disbelief written clearly across her face. "Wow." She finally says. "You know, I'm not even going to ask. I'm sure it's a long story, and I'm sure it's all under control."
"That goes without saying." Kim sighs. "You shouldn't stay here, Tommy."
"But if I ask, you'll say yes."
"Ok. One night then."
Stormy green eyes stare deeply into hers. Gentle fingers smooth back her hair. She accepts the touch of soft lips on her own and leans into the kiss, her breaths quickening, her own hands sliding from strong shoulders down a warm back to graceful curves....
Kim feels a light but persistent touch on her neck, and drifts reluctantly up out of sleep. The room is filled with the defuse glow of a street lamp filtered through thin curtains, the distant sound of a car rumbling past outside, and the softer, closer sound of someone else's breathing.
"Hey, you were having a bad dream." She realizes it's Tommy's voice, Tommy's body pressed against hers, her breath warm against Kim's bare shoulder blade as she speaks.
"No, actually, I was having a very good dream."
"Oh," Tommy says. "From the sounds you were making, I thought it was a nightmare."
"Shhh." Kim sighs, and pulls the other woman's arm around her waist. "If I fall asleep right away, it might come back."
"Why do you need a dream? I'm right here." Tommy's kisses are soft along her neck.
"Shhhh," Kim says again, her breaths deepening and lengthening back into sleep.
The phone rings and they both jerk awake. Kim sits up straight, her hands patting the sheets around her, but the receiver is on the floor beside Tommy, and she picks it up on the third ring before Kim can stop her.
"Hello?" Pause. "Of course. One moment please." Her slurred, raspy voice is a parody of formality. She passes the phone to Kim.
"Kim?" Kerry's voice sounds confused. "Oh, for a second there, I thought I had the wrong number. I hope it's not too early to call. I got in late last night and thought it would be better to wait until morning."
"No, no, it's not too early." Kim covers the receiver and coughs, trying to clear the morning scratchiness from her voice.
There's a long pause, and Kim begins to feel panicky as well as confused, but then Kerry's voice comes clear and calm again. "I've been looking forward to seeing you. I was wondering if you're free for dinner tonight?"
"Yeah, absolutely. What time?"
"I get off at 5...."
"I'll come by and pick you up."
"Good." Another long pause. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"I'm glad you called, Babe." Another long silence. "I'll see you tonight?"
"Yeah. 'Bye Kim."
"'Bye." Kim sets the receiver on the floor looks at the red numerals of her digital clock, and covers her face with her hands. Her first appointment is in less than an hour, and she might have just ruined her life.
"You call her 'Babe'?" Tommy says. "That is so cute."
"Shut up, Tommy."