*** Please Note: As of April 30 2020, we are temporarily suspending paperback shipments to locations outside of the United States because they seem to be getting 'stuck' in Miami. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please email info@BellaBooks.com with any questions. ***
by Kat Jackson
Emery Larsen didn’t mean for this to happen.
Years into her relationship with Lauren, Emery recognizes that things have gone a bit…static. While she doesn’t doubt that she and Lauren still love each other, Emery can tell that something is definitely off. And she can also tell that the problem isn’t coming from her.
Until, that is, Emery’s past saunters into her present, bringing with it reminders of what could have been. The moment Emery lays eyes on Burke Calloway, her memory retreats to their long-ago big chance. Time and women have come and gone since then, but Emery has never forgotten the sparks she felt all those years ago.
Caught between her present and her past, completely uncertain of her future, Emery fumbles to find her own truth amidst the chaos of falling for someone she never thought she would see again…while still loving the woman she thought she’d be with forever.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"One of my favorite things about reading is discovering characters that feel real—characters who are flawed but hopeful and make very human mistakes. When I set out on the (long) journey to write Begin Again, I wanted to be sure that my characters were just that: flawed but hopeful. And yes, they make mistakes…a lot of them. But those mistakes pave the way toward a love that refuses to be silenced, a love that is slow to blossom but powerful in its blooming. The characters in Begin Again are ready to show readers that true, real love is worth the risk."
Michele R. - This debut novel was well written, with a good pace, and I could sympathize with the characters.
Orlando J. - Begin Again is one of the most beautiful, heartrending, and thought-provoking books I've read. Kat Jackson manages the rare feat of making a lesfic novel that toys with infidelity meaningful and elegant. While this all might sound a bit grim, it does have plenty of lighthearted moments too.
T. Geist - This is a very realistic story, and one that may be familiar to quite a few out there. It's a story about the dying of a relationship that you believed at one point in your life would be your final one. It's told from Emery's POV, as she's coming to that realization. All that is happening while a new love interest joins her life.
The distinct patter of falling rain hitting the skylight pulls me from a semi-deep sleep punctuated with lively dreams. The latest, the one that dissolved as I opened my eyes, featured a walking, talking dolphin that sounded suspiciously like my mother—probably a subconscious reminder to call her or a sign that I need a vacation. Yes, a tropical vacation, away from my kind-hearted but prying mother, where I could swim with the actual dolphins and not be spoken to by them, or, well, anyone else. I roll over, rub my eyes and sigh contentedly at the alluring thought. A girl can dream, I think before sitting up in bed. And right now dreaming is all I’ve got.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” I mutter, rubbing my eyes again and shaking the lingering sleep from my head. I’m alone in bed, which is not a good sign. It’s Saturday, and if Lauren is already up and moving, that means I should be too. An unspoken rule between us deems that Saturday is more a workday than a weekend, as chores and shopping tend to pile up unattended during our busy weeks. I’ve been unable to sleep past eight a.m. since I turned twenty-five six years earlier, so I don’t necessarily mind getting up early, but I also figure a little Saturday-morning cuddling wouldn’t derail either of us.
As I flop back onto the pillows, savoring the final moments before I force myself out of bed, the rain picks up speed and sounds more like a near-downpour. A rainy Saturday has definite appeal. I could catch up on some reading after taking my time with my oh so important house-cleaning duties. Maybe Lauren could be persuaded to make dinner, which hasn’t happened in months despite her being the absolute better cook, and we could lazily eat in front of the TV, watch something mindless and gratuitous, cuddle, kiss, have wild sex on the family room floor…
That too, I think with a tinge of bitterness, hasn’t happened in months. Never mind the family room floor part: the sex part alone. And wild? I’m pretty certain Lauren and I haven’t had anything close to “wild sex” in the last four years of our relationship, if ever before that.
“Em! You up?”
Lauren’s voice trails into the bedroom from the bottom of the stairs. The sound of it tugs gently at my heart, spreading with it a mixture of warmth and sadness that keeps me wondering when, exactly, I last made love with my girlfriend of nearly five years.
“I’m awake,” I call back, slowly moving myself out of bed.
“Your mom’s called twice in the last hour. You might want to call her back.”
“Seriously?” I mutter, recalling the annoying dolphin chasing after me. “I’ll call her in a few minutes,” I call down to Lauren.
“Mer is on the road and should be here around two. I’m going to run out to get coffee and make a Home Depot stop.”
“Okay!” I yell back, rolling my eyes at Lauren’s inability to climb a flight of stairs to a) say good morning to me, b) give me a good morning kiss, and c) speak to me like a normal person instead of yelling to me through the house.
With that, the sound of the front door closing signals Lauren’s silent goodbye, one of her more annoying traits. I’m definitely the talker in our relationship and the more affectionate one. Our communication differences usually balance out, but Lauren has been relying too heavily on her avoidant nature lately. She knows I hate the silent/nonexistent goodbyes.
Not wanting to start the day off by belaboring the things that drive me nuts about my partner, whom I really do love and desire and all that, I give myself a mental shake as I pull on a sports bra and Nike shorts and T-shirt, grab an overflowing laundry basket, and head off to begin the day of chores. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll still get a chance at that wild sex later in the day.
* * *
The first floor of our perfectly-sized house that’s set close to the Sunnyside neighborhood of Portland is, surprisingly, very clean. I have no idea what time Lauren got up, nor when she came to bed last night, but it’s nearing 9:30 a.m. by the time I emerge from the basement and step one of laundry duty, and I am definitely not expecting to see the house as orderly as it is, especially considering Lauren hasn’t yet returned from her errands. For the past month, Lauren’s been working on installing new hardwood laminate floors throughout our open concept living room and dining room, and while I knew she was finished, I also knew that as of last night there was a shit ton of random debris lying around the first floor. Now, nothing seems out of place. A tinge of guilt sweeps through me as I realize how much work Lauren has put into these new floors, as well as the cleanup process which, technically, I was supposed to take care of. I move toward the kitchen, half-hoping to find it a disaster…
…but, no. I don’t think the kitchen has been this clean since we moved in roughly two years ago. All this unusual cleanliness is making me a little unnerved; Lauren is not known for being neat nor is she particularly orderly—that is definitely my role in the relationship—but she is known for caring deeply about people’s opinions of her, and it suddenly seems as though she wants to be able to take the Housecleaning Credit when Meredith arrives.
I walk through the spotless kitchen and inhale deeply as I step outside onto the deck, phone in my hand. This deck was a huge selling point for both of us; it’s nestled right into the lush greenery surrounding and encasing the backyard. It’s big enough to hold a grill plus a table and chairs and still leaves room to spare in the yard for gardening (Lauren’s thing, definitely not mine) and more entertainment space. I tuck my legs beneath me on the slightly damp built-in bench and look up through the wooden slats of the pergola, watching the clouds scatter quickly across the bluing sky, wondering where my rainy Saturday escaped to.
My mom instantly answers the phone. “Well, you are alive,” she says, her tone light despite the salty words.
“I am indeed, Mom. Sorry I’ve been MIA this week; work has been crazy.”
“So Lauren told me. You’re getting ready to start a project with Whitmore Hill! How exciting!”
I shake my head, wondering why I need to speak with my mother when my loving, chatty-only-with-my-mother girlfriend obviously dished up all my dirt already. “Yep, we’re kicking off on Wednesday. It sounds like a good project. I’ll probably have to do some traveling.” I’m a communications analyst for a consulting firm in Portland and while I love Portland, I really love being able to travel for work.
“I’m not sure yet. Whitmore has outposts in New York, Florida, Texas, and Washington. I may end up closer to you on a trip.”
“Oh, honey, that would be wonderful. Your dad and I would love to see you.”
“I’d love to see you guys too.” And I would. My parents are amazing: supportive, kind, and full of unconditional love. They’re maybe a little weird, but after I got through my teen years, my mom truly became one of my closest friends—even if she is a bit of a nag at times.
“So, Lauren told me today’s the big day?”
“Really? How do you know all of this? Do you talk to Lauren every day?”
Laughing, she assures me that, no, she only speaks with Lauren when she can’t get a hold of me. “Besides,” she adds, “Lauren always has more to say than you do.”
I roll my eyes, thankful that my mom is two and a half hours north in coastal Washington, and not sitting directly across from me, because I’d be sure to get a love-slap on the arm for my roll of the eyes. Those little zingers are best ignored; I am in a constantly losing battle with my mother regarding how often we speak on the phone. “Yes, it’s the big day. Meredith is moving in.”
“And you’re sure you’re okay with this?”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, I don’t know…she and Lauren are so close, and you’re accustomed to living with just Lauren. Do you worry that they’ll spend more time together and you’ll be left out?”
My mother, the worrier. And usually on someone else’s behalf. “No, I’m not worried about that. Or anything else for that matter. I like Meredith. She’s good for Lauren, and we’ve always gotten along. She needs a safety net right now and we’re fortunate enough to be able to provide that for her.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. You’re very kind, Emery.”
“I learned from the best. Thank Dad for me.”
“Oh, ha ha. Very funny.”
I smile as she begins to blabber on about my older sister and her latest breakup. Helena isn’t known for her ability to commit; my younger sister, Jaelle, prospers in that area and I hang out somewhere in the middle, typical for my middle-child status, I guess. Having grown up in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia, we are all products of our parents’ success, though in very different ways. Helena skipped the whole college thing, moved to New Hampshire when I was a freshman in high school, and is now a prospering sculptor and freelance writer. We all silently attribute her nomadic, free-spirited ways to having been born out of wedlock at our parents’ tender ages of twenty. I came seven years later, a child of the literal honeymoon, and the youngest, Jaelle, arrived six years after my arrival. Jaelle and I have a stronger bond than either of us has with Helena. It seems weird to say, but I’ve never missed Helena; after I graduated high school and moved to the West Coast for college, my bond with her all but disappeared. I was happy when both my parents and Jaelle eventually moved to the west coast: Jaelle is currently living in northern California, a wicked drive for her to me or my parents up in Washington, so we all congregate at our family beach house in Rockaway at least three times over the summer. It’s now April, and I haven’t seen my family since Christmas, so I’m getting antsy for June to arrive.
“Your father wants to remodel the kitchen. Again.”
My mom’s voice interrupts my thoughts, which are again interrupted by the sound of a car in the driveway. “Oh, let him do it. He loves it. Listen, Mom, Lauren’s back. I need to get going.”
“Bye, sweetie. Don’t forget to call your old mother next week and tell her all about your new project!”
“I will, I will. Bye, Mom.”
* * *
“Em? The spare room is all cleaned out, right?”
I continue folding laundry and nod in Lauren’s direction. “Yes. I moved all of my stuff up to the office and your stuff down to the basement.”
“Thanks, babe.” Lauren sidles up behind me and puts her arms around my waist. She kisses the nape of my neck, squeezes me, and leaves the bedroom.
I turn quickly, hoping to catch her for a more passionate interaction, but all I catch is the sight of her rather exquisite ass turning the corner.
“I got chicken for you to marinate for dinner. If you could do that when you’re done with the laundry, that’d be great. I’m going to mow the lawn since everything dried out.” Again with the long-distance talking. This is getting seriously old.
“Lauren, wait,” I call after her, walking briskly to the bedroom door.
There she stands, already at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me with a slight smile. God, she’s pretty. Hot, really, and since she doesn’t appreciate being called pretty, I tuck that word back into my mind to let it rest there while I verbally stick with hot. Lauren is tall, standing at nearly six feet, and decades of soccer have carved her body into a firm, muscular, taut specimen. She claims she was never curvy and has always had an androgynous build, which fits her personality perfectly. Her blue eyes are wide and touched with just a smear of gray, and her shoulder-length dark blond hair is pulled back, as always, into a loose ponytail. Years ago, I noticed Lauren because, yes, she was hot, but also because she looked really, really gay. I love that about her. She isn’t masculine, she’s just not feminine, and her androgyny is only slightly compromised by her lovely, small breasts. Yeah. Definitely hot. And pretty.
Now, she looks at me expectantly, wondering why I could possibly need to interrupt her schedule.
“I miss you,” I say quietly, maybe even feebly, though I try to not have that tone.
“I’m right here, babe,” she replies, her voice even and smile unwavering.
“Yeah, I know, but…I miss you.”
Now the smile wavers. Lauren doesn’t do heavy emotions, and she doesn’t do whining. My plaintive declaration could easily fall into either category. I am running the risk of being dismissed for the lawnmower.
“In other words…” she prompts. Still with me. Okay. Go for it, Em.
“I’m thinking we should have sex soon,” I blurt out.
Lauren laughs and takes the steps two at a time to meet me. She cups my face in her hands and looks at me, really looks at me, before kissing my lips softly and slowly. “Soon,” she says, too quickly breaking the moment that I could have easily guided back between the sheets. Or against the hallway wall, whatever!
Words tangled in my wanting mouth, I stand silently as Lauren bounds back down the stairs and out of my sight. Soon. I’ve heard that one before. More times than I’d like to count.
* * *
Later that afternoon, I can finally see the end of the laundry. Yes, it gets that bad with two women who work and work out on a nearly daily basis, including one woman—not me—who is in denial about her clotheshorse status. The chicken is marinating, the lawn is mowed, and Lauren is working on making sure everything is in its place in the basement, which is finished and has a rec room and Lauren’s “office,” which is more of a catch-all room. Lauren doesn’t do much in the way of needing an office, but we both need our own space. For the past seven years, Lauren has been working for a local engineering firm, struggling to move forward in her career. She seems to be stuck at a mid-level position, doing a lot of field analysis and assistance for the upper-level engineers in the firm. Because she’s had very few projects that were hers alone, she virtually never has work to do outside of the office, hence the joking existence of her “office.” On the other hand, my work in consulting demands a certain level of homework, mostly research, in order to effectively stay on top of things. So, my office is truly for work. Lauren’s is more of a cave where she stuffs her sports trophies and blasts 90’s music when she needs to decompress.
Right now, I’m realizing that it’s a good thing our three-bedroom house includes a basement for Lauren so that we each still have our own space after prepping the third bedroom for its new inhabitant: Lauren’s best friend from college, Meredith. Knowing my girlfriend as I do, I don’t think she would have been so willing to let Mer crash for an undetermined amount of time if we were living in a two-bedroom house with no basement. Neither Lauren nor I are too keen on the idea of living on top of people, since we both lived that way during college. We definitely like having our own spaces. Mer, however, being quite the talker and attention-demander, will be an interesting addition to our low-key household.
I’m shoving the last of my clean underwear into its drawer when I hear the unmistakable sound of Meredith yelling Lauren’s name. It isn’t a normal yell; Mer’s got this earth-shatteringly loud, deep, drawn-out bellow that ends in something like a cackle. It is unmistakable and one hundred percent Meredith.
Having Mer around is going to be somewhat of an adventure, I realize as I head downstairs. She and Lauren have been best friends for fifteen years, and, as Lauren sheepishly admits, Meredith is one of the few friends that Lauren never even attempted to sleep with—not that I know of anyone who ever turned Lauren down. Though resplendently open-minded, Mer is completely heterosexual, and about as experienced in that field as Lauren is in hers. They were quite the duo throughout college, and even after having been with Lauren for five years, I still blink twice when new stories detailing their sordid adventures come up.
“Emery, gorgeous girl! Hello, hello, hello!” Mer swoops into the living room and heads straight for my open arms. “I haven’t seen you in ages!”
“It’s been at least a year, huh?” I give her a good squeeze before releasing her to give her a long, thorough look up and down. “Too thin,” I declare, poking at her suspiciously trim waist.
“Oh, shut up, I’m going through a stressful time. I’ll pack it back on in time, especially with Lauren’s cooking.”
I snort. “Lauren’s cooking? I think I’ve forgotten what that tastes like.”
“Is my best friend not taking care of her woman?” Mer raises her eyebrows accusingly.
As if on cue, Lauren, weighed down by several of Mer’s bags, walks through the front door. She grunts toward us and moves toward the first-floor bedroom, which will now be Mer’s domain.
Mer turns back to me, a gentle look of surprise on her face. “Everything cool?”
Her intuition never fails, and apparently she still has us on her radar. “Yeah, of course. Everything’s fine.”
“Fine, huh. Fine. Fine’s icky.”
“Fine is…fine,” I say unconvincingly, so I toss a grin in with it. “I’ll go grab more of your things. Make yourself at home.”
* * *
“This…this is delicious food.” Mer leans back in her deck chair with a look of food ecstasy, eyes shut as she savors her final bite.
Lauren glances over at me and winks. “Em’s becoming quite the cook.”
I glare at her. True, I marinated the chicken, and it is pretty damn good. But Lauren did the actual execution at the grill, and she’d grilled some amazing corn on the cob as well. Is she seriously trying to make me the cook of the household?
“Oh, yes, on that note,” Mer interjects. “What’s this bullshit about you not cooking, Lauren Cabrian?”
Mer shakes her head dramatically. “Nope. I don’t buy it.”
Lauren looks at me pleadingly, which is a very cute look on her. She could use those blue eyes to make me do just about anything.
“I can’t defend you, Lauren,” I say with a shrug, reaching for my glass of wine. “Things have changed around here.”
“Who just stood at the grill for twenty minutes?”
“Who marinated the chicken and prepped the corn?” I shoot back.
“That’s called helping, Em.”
“No, that’s called cooking, Lauren.”
Mer sits back with an amused smile, watching our verbal ping-pong with a glint in her eye. “Oh, you two,” she says finally, reaching both hands out to squeeze our arms. “You’re just so adorable.”
Lauren leans over and plops a loud kiss on my cheek. “So adorable,” she repeats, getting up for another beer.
I focus my gaze on the nearly naked cob of corn on my plate. I know Mer is watching me, and I don’t want her to see what I know my eyes are revealing.
“I hate cooking,” I finally say.
“I know you do.” Mer’s voice is full of understanding and a touch of sympathy.
“And,” I look up, having regained steady footing, “my work schedule is a little unpredictable. So, Lauren being the better cook with the more consistent, home-by-five-thirty-every-day schedule, it makes sense that she’s the cook, right?”
Mer smiles at me and squeezes my arm a second time. “Absolutely right, Em. We’ll get her back in the kitchen.”
I nod in agreement, then turn my gaze out to the yard. The sun has set and the air is cooling by the minute. I tug the arms of my sweatshirt down and burrow into its warmth. I know Mer is still watching me in that slyly intuitive way of hers, and I know that if we keep talking, everything will tumble out of me, and her first night here is not the night for me to tell her how frustrated I’m becoming with Lauren and her seeming indifference toward our relationship.
Luckily for me, Lauren chooses that moment to return with a beer for herself and another for Mer, along with the bottle of wine I’ve been working on. I pour myself half of a glass, and sit back to listen to the two best friends banter and chatter, letting the night slowly drape itself over us.
The next day holds none of the rain vs. clear sky drama of Saturday. The air is crisp and clean, and the sun is pushing past fluffy strings of clouds as early as seven thirty a.m. I know this because I wake up alone, again, at seven and decide to show Lauren that I don’t care about her absence from our bed. There’s no sign of her ever having come to bed, again. I give myself a few minutes to stew amongst the sheets and pillows, then get up and dress to go for a run. I don’t even bother looking for her as I quietly make my way downstairs and out the front door, phone secured to my arm. The house is silent behind me—and Lauren isn’t on the living room sofa. I don’t smell coffee, either, so I know Mer hasn’t gotten up yet.
I push the mystery out of my head and stretch my legs at the bottom of our driveway. I honestly haven’t given myself time to sit and dissect what’s going on between me and Lauren. Given the amount of time we’ve been together, I assume we’re having growing pains, or going through a bit of a slump. I’m not exactly well-versed in this area as Lauren is officially my longest relationship, but I figure I know enough from my own past relationships. We’d bounce back just as other couples did. In fact, two of our closest friends have tripped over bumps similar to what seems to be happening with me and Lauren. They’re still together after eight years and still happy—so much so that they’re trying to get pregnant. That definitely isn’t in the cards for me and Lauren, but if it works for them, great. I’ll be happy to be a lesbian fairy godmother.
As I jog through the quiet streets of our neighborhood, I think back to Meredith’s concern about me and Lauren. I know that’s not the end of it. She will gently push the subject with me before ever broaching it with Lauren. What is there to say when that happens? Do I love Lauren? Absolutely. Am I still in love with her? Yeah. Have things changed over time? Definitely. I know as well as anyone that the crazy, up-all-night passion that sparks the beginning of a relationship doesn’t last in that form; it waxes and wanes over time and experience. I miss the closeness with Lauren. But I also know it’s still there, somewhere. I just have to get her to remember it.
And the best place to start is figuring out where the hell she’s sleeping, and why it isn’t with me.
* * *
When I return home after my head-clearing jog, both Lauren and Meredith are working on breakfast in the kitchen. Lauren greets me with a soft kiss to my sweaty cheek, then sends me upstairs to shower. It’s obvious that Lauren is happy about Mer staying with us; she seems more relaxed, and lighter somehow. Watching the two of them talk and laugh in the kitchen makes my heart swell. Sure, Lauren and I have friends in Portland, but Mer has always been her closest friend. Our other friends could never measure up to what Mer means to Lauren.
Later that afternoon, Mer and I find ourselves sitting on a blanket on the sidelines of the soccer field at Laurelhurst Park, which is a short walk from our house. Its proximity was another big selling point for us when we’d purchased the house, partly because of Lauren’s need to be near a soccer field, and also because it’s a great, open, green space, and we both love that.
Lauren has belonged to a soccer rec league since she graduated from college. The games take place on every seasonable Sunday of the year and I sometimes beg out in order to run errands or just have some time to myself. Mer insisted that I come along this time, if for nothing more than to enjoy the weather and the scenery.
It’s an unseasonably warm and gorgeous day for spring in Portland, even warm enough for jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. A decent crowd heavily populated by lesbians has come out to watch their friends or partners. There are a few boyfriend-husband types lingering around, too, and a few have small children hanging on them.
I inhale deeply and lie back on the blanket, closing my eyes against the jarring rays of the sun. I love being outside—but only in temperate weather. I absolutely hate being cold.
“Lauren’s looking pretty good out there,” Mer remarks as she watches the team warm up.
“Yeah, she hasn’t lost any of her skill. And she’s in exactly the same shape she was when she graduated college.”
“Incredible. That’s a hell of a lot of devotion.”
“Especially for rec league.”
Mer snorts. “She could have gone somewhere with this, you know.”
“I know. The national team. She knows too. But she won’t discuss it.”
“Family pressure, I bet. Her dad was hell-bent on her doing college the right way, all academics, no room for athletics.”
“He’s still like that. Every time she talks to him, all he asks about is her career.”
“That’s a shame,” Mer says lightly, her voice trailing off as she looks around the field. “What is this, a lesbian flash mob?”
I laugh as I sit up to peruse the crowd. It does look as though even more lesbians have arrived. One particular crowd across the field is engaged in some rowdy laughter and playful shoving. “Soccer games are known for attracting lesbians, yes. If you were interested in coming to the dark side, you’d have your pick sitting right where you are.”
“Maybe I should switch over. It’s not like I’m having any luck on my side.”
“Please. You’re the least gay woman I’ve ever met.”
Mer shoves me playfully. “I feel like that’s an insult.”
“It might be. What happened with McSteamy, anyway?” Mer had been engaged, which was a shock in and of itself, to a rather attractive plastic surgeon. It had seemed idyllic, but Mer wasn’t known for her ability to commit, even when the man was absurdly attractive and obscenely wealthy.
“Oh, I tried to stick that out. I even went wedding dress shopping.” She whispers those last three words, nearly shuddering as they slip from her lips. “But I couldn’t do it. I went to see him in his office one day, and there was this guy in the waiting room. His mom was getting a consultation for a facelift, and he was gorgeous. Steamier than McSteamy, which I didn’t think was possible.” Mer laughs and shakes her head, her long black curls swinging across her back. “I slipped that rock off my hand and fucked that man three hours later.”
“You cheated on Rob?”
“I did. I didn’t mean to, exactly, but,” she shrugs, a light blush staining her cheeks, “it happened. And I don’t regret it because it was the best sex I’ve had in years.”
“I thought Rob was good in bed.”
“He was. It’s just that Devon…Devon was even better. But you know me, Em. I’m not wife material. I’m every wife’s nightmare.”
I stare at her. I don’t want to ask, but I have to. “And this Devon guy? Are you his wife’s nightmare?”
“It would appear so, yes.”
“I know! I know. Seriously, Em, I know. I’m not proud.” She finally meets my stare, her coffee-colored eyes showing some sense of shame. “I know you probably think I’m a whore.”
I hold her gaze for a moment, knowing I have to choose my response carefully. “I don’t think you’re a whore, Mer. It’s just…I don’t understand your…lifestyle.”
She winks at me. “Not many do.”
“So is that why you’re here? Running from both the broken engagement and the disgruntled wife?”
“Throw the obsessed man I cheated with in there, and yes, that’s why I’m here. I hit the trifecta. I had to leave town.”
I continue to openly stare at Meredith as she reaches back and sweeps her hair into a messy ponytail. Even messy, it can’t hinder her beauty, which is one of the reasons she continually ends up in these situations. Mer’s dad is from Spain, and her mom is Panamanian. Mer is a ridiculous, fiery mix of Spanish and Latin-American blood: her curves are killer, she’s got this unruly mane of thick, curly black hair, and these eyes that tug you in, then drown you in their deep brown smokiness. Meredith had a very different upbringing than Lauren or I; she grew up in Los Angeles and her mom worked in the media, so she was constantly around older people. Mer’s father died when she was in high school, but his work in the film industry further involved Mer in a world for which she was given no preparation. After a bottle of wine, Lauren once told me that Mer had first had sex at the age of twelve, and has not stopped since. I don’t know, and probably never will, if that first experience was entirely mutual, but I do know that Meredith is over-the-top comfortable in her own skin. As she says: she doesn’t regret anything she’s done in her life. Meredith loves her life, including her promiscuity, which was at an all-time high during college. Never mind the fact that my girlfriend was right there with her enjoying her own promiscuous life, though hers was of course with women.
Mer’s voice breaks into my thoughts. “Don’t obsess over it, Em. I’m fine. They’ll all be fine too.”
“Of course,” I manage, trying to not think about all the women Lauren has slept with over the years. She refuses to tell me how many. I figure she doesn’t even know the total. That was something I had to get past very quickly in our relationship, as Lauren was fiercely protective of her rather experienced past. Our worlds pre-us were very different in that regard. I can count my total partners on one hand, Lauren being the last finger on that hand. I’ve never considered myself a “casual sex” kind of girl; I had three serious relationships prior to Lauren, and one longish affair during my first relationship. And no, I wasn’t proud of that, nor do I talk about it, but, well, it happened.
I settle back onto my elbows and turn my attention to the game. Lauren is playing her usual position, center midfielder. It’s a demanding position—she is constantly on the move and works her impressive foot skills to field passes and knock them out to her wings and forwards. She’s played midfield positions since she started playing soccer when she was five years old. Throughout middle and high school, Lauren was always on the soccer field. Her dad had once joked to us that Lauren had permanent grass stains on her knees (and honestly, her knees still look off-color sometimes). Soccer is Lauren’s life force. She has always known that she has the skills to take on whatever comes her way while on that field; in the other areas of life, she sometimes falters. It’s not that Lauren isn’t smart. She’s just not book smart.
High school was difficult for her, and because she didn’t graduate in the top fifty of her class, her dad informed her that she’d have to put soccer on the back burner if she expected him to pay for college. So she did—sort of. Lauren finished her freshman year at Portland State with a 3.7 GPA, and no soccer. No “real” soccer, anyway. She kept up a strict workout regimen and attended all of the women’s soccer games. She’d become friends with a couple of the players, and occasionally kicked around with them to stay in shape. When the coach caught sight of Lauren on the field near the end of her freshman year, she’d approached Lauren immediately and asked her to try out for next year. The tryout was a formality; some of the team members had already mentioned Lauren’s name and skills to their coach, and she’d been watching Lauren from a distance for some time.
Lauren kept her new soccer status from her dad during her sophomore year. She finally came clean with her step-mom over Christmas break. Beth was quietly supportive, understanding both her husband’s and her step-daughter’s fears. But Jake Cabrian remained clueless until Lauren’s senior year when she invited him to her final game against Eastern Washington University. Both Jake and Beth, along with Lauren’s younger brother and her twin step-sisters, were there to watch Lauren score two goals and help bring her team to victory. As Lauren tells the story, it wasn’t so much that Jake was mad about Lauren’s deception, nor was he surprised. He was proud of his oldest daughter, but also hurt that she hadn’t felt she could be honest with him. That hurt spanned a few years of their relationship, and it was a big reason why Lauren didn’t work toward post-college soccer. She knew her father wanted her to have a steady income through steady work, and she figured she owed him that much after having lied to him for several years. And true to form, Jake was over-the-top thrilled when Lauren landed a job with a local engineering firm, putting her civil engineering degree to work…even if it was just a mid-level job that didn’t test her full potential.
Around me, people erupt with cheering—Lauren’s team has scored. I cheer along with everyone else, frantically trying to determine who kicked the goal. Brenna, a woman Lauren has been playing soccer with for a couple years, jogs past Lauren and slaps her waiting hand. The smile on Brenna’s face tells me what I need to know, and I relax. Not seeing your girlfriend score is not recommended, but missing your girlfriend’s teammate score is not nearly as dangerous.
“Who’s that cute girl?”
I follow Mer’s gaze over to Brenna, who is bent over, tying her cleat, an act that slyly shows off her firm ass. “Brenna? You’ve met her, haven’t you?”
“The one who just scored? Oh, yeah. Maybe I have. She’s cute.”
I cock my head toward Mer. “I thought you weren’t coming to the dark side? Besides, Brenna’s not on my team. She’s on yours.”
“Well, she’s adorable. Is she single?”
“Habitually. She’s an ophthalmologist, doesn’t care much for dating. Why are you so curious?”
“Because I’m a curious person. But what I’m more curious about is why your girlfriend emerged from the basement this morning, and not your bedroom.”
Oh. Well, that solved my mystery. I shrug, needing a moment to process this information and find a response. I know Mer is watching me closely.
“Maybe she was working on something late last night,” I offer.
“Hon, I know she slept in the basement. And I know she isn’t working on anything.” Mer’s tone is gentle, but not demeaning. She seems to understand that I’m at a loss.
“She hasn’t really slept in our bed much lately.” I exhale slowly. I feel a tiny bit better having shared this information with someone.
“Should I even ask when you last had sex?” Now her tone is low, still gentle, but almost teasing.
“Don’t bother. I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
Now it’s Mer’s turn to stare at me, mouth slightly agape. She shoves my shoulder. “Please tell me you’re kidding, Em.”
I slowly shake my head. “If I had to guess, I would say…around Christmas?” I rifle through the memories in my brain. Christmas could be right, but I might be thinking about the last time we almost had sex. “I know for certain that we had sex on our anniversary.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t your anniversary in August? And is it not currently April?”
I shush Mer, quickly looking around us to see if anyone is listening. Fortunately, most people seem focused on the game. My non-sex life is embarrassing enough in my own head, but to have the greater Portland lesbian athletic scene know how terrible it is? No thanks.
“Oh, Emery, what the hell is going on with you two? Are you sleeping with someone else? Is Lauren?”
“What? No! At least I’m not.” My stomach clenches suddenly. How had I not considered Lauren having an affair? It makes perfect sense. Too perfect. And with Lauren’s college track record…
“I’m sure Lauren’s not either, hon. Really. She’s never cheated on anyone.”
And how could she? I’m Lauren’s second serious relationship; after her promiscuous college years, she threw herself into a relationship that lasted for four years which, according to her, fizzled out on its own. I cringe inwardly: Lauren and I are coming close to celebrating our fifth anniversary. The timing is eerily similar…are we fizzling out, too?
“Honestly, Em, I—”
I hold up my hand. “Stop. It’s okay. I don’t think she’s cheating on me.” The knot in my stomach loosens a bit, then clamps tighter when I realize I still don’t know what’s keeping Lauren from me.
Mer opens her mouth to say something, then shuts it without uttering a sound. I steer my stare toward the game, hoping for a distraction from the repetitive thought clanging through my mind: Why is my girlfriend no longer interested in me?
* * *
“Em, can you bring another bottle of red out to the deck? Brenna just emptied the sauvignon.”
“No problem,” I call back to Lauren who’s manning steaks on the grill. She’d decided to host an impromptu Sunday family dinner after her soccer game ended. She and Brenna are riding high from their shutout, and Brenna in particular is in a celebratory mood.
I grab a new bottle and the opener. I pause in the doorway, giving myself a moment to appreciate the scene on the deck before me. I love my biological family, but this is an even better family. Mer is sitting next to Brenna, both with full glasses of red wine. Mer’s exotic looks clash with Brenna’s all-American long blond hair and big brown eyes, but they have clearly clicked, laughing and carrying on as if they’ve been friends forever. Carly and Jen, who live a few blocks from us, are talking baby-making with Cat, who happens to moonlight as a doula. My best friend, Allison, is next to Lauren at the grill, probably rambling on about one of two topics: her never-ending relationship drama (her on-off girlfriend, Sidney, isn’t currently here), or the never-ending employee drama at her coffee shop, Perk. I love these women, crazy and drama-filled as they sometimes are. And I especially love how easily Meredith has slid into the picture.
Lauren looks up from the grill as I hand Mer the new bottle of wine. She catches my eye and teasingly rolls her gray-blue eyes. Yep, Allison must be giving her an earful. I smile back at Lauren. She holds my glance for a moment, and I search her eyes for some hint of love, or passion, or anything other than general camaraderie. Lauren continues to stare at me as she takes a long swig from her bottle of beer. Now that look—I know that look. My stomach flutters involuntarily. Yep, that’s a good look. Lauren seals it with a wink before turning her attention back to the steaks and Allison’s chatter.
Soon the eight of us sit down at our dining room table, since the air has become a bit too chilly to enjoy dinner outside. Sidney still hasn’t arrived, and Allison’s not talking about it, so I don’t bother to ask where she is. Before we left the kitchen, Lauren told me that she’d fill me in later regarding the latest Allison vs. Sidney showdown. She also gave me a quick kiss, and the beer on her breath was more intense than I’d smelled in quite some time.
The talking dies down as Cat raises her wineglass. Her smile sparkles, her teeth impeccably white as she toasts us. “Thank you, Emery and Lauren, for yet again opening your door to your merry band of weirdo friends. We love when you cook for us!”
The table clinks glasses and we dig in. Moans erupt from several mouths as the first bites of buttery steak are chewed. Lauren takes the compliments in stride, simply nodding and grinning.
“So, how’s the baby making going?” I ask Carly, who’s seated to my right.
“Harder than we’d imagined,” she answers, looking across the table to her wife, Jen. “I’m going for the next insemination this week.”
“It can sometimes take time to get pregnant,” Mer reassures them. “I’m sure it’ll happen when you’re truly ready for it.”
“Oh, I know. I just want to be pregnant so badly.”
“You don’t hear many lesbians say that,” Allison says, poking Carly’s arm with her fork.
“Including me,” Jen says with a laugh. “This is all Carly. No way am I growing a baby in this body.”
“What if Carly isn’t able to get pregnant? Would you change your mind, Jen?”
I watch as Carly and Jen exchange a look across the table. Apparently, I’m not the first person to ask them this loaded question. It doesn’t look like I’m getting an answer as Carly shrugs and Jen takes a long drink. Lauren reaches over and squeezes my forearm.
Conversation quickly picks up, and Jen starts asking me questions about my new project at work. I fill her in on the basics, feeling renewed excitement about diving into the communication mechanics of a struggling company. It’s been over a year since I’ve been assigned to such a big, company-wide consultation. My boss, Libby, has jokingly referred to it as more of a “rehabilitation” than a consultation, but I’m ready for the challenge. Both Jen and Cat know a few of the people I’ll be working with at Whitmore Hill, and they seem optimistic about how those people will react to my team working with them to improve their overall functioning as a company.
* * *
“Be safe!” I call to Allison as she backs down the driveway. As soon as her headlights turn to illuminate the road, I yank Lauren inside. “All right, spill it,” I say, closing the door and leaning against it to look at her.
“Allison is pretty sure Sidney is cheating on her with the barista she hired a month ago.”
I love that about Lauren: when she has gossip she knows I want, she doesn’t make me wait for it. “Oh, that’s bad.”
“It would be if she had any evidence.”
I reach up and cup Lauren’s shoulders. Her skin is warm beneath her T-shirt. “She never does. And yet, somehow, Sidney is always caught.”
Lauren grins and wraps her arms around my waist. I slide my arms around her neck, my pulse quickening at the contact. “Well, if Allison kept her woman satisfied, then she wouldn’t have to worry about what Sidney is or isn’t doing.”
Isn’t that ironic coming from you. I don’t have much time to think as Lauren’s mouth meets mine and unleashes a kiss that I haven’t experienced in, well, a long time. Maybe my best friend’s inability to keep her girlfriend happy might actually work to my benefit.
I sink into the kiss as Lauren gently pushes me against the door and presses herself against me. The handful of inches she has on me forces her to bend her head just a bit in order to kiss me, and the friction of our bodies moving together makes me want to stand on my toes. The kiss deepens, our breathing quickens. I run my fingers through Lauren’s hair, tugging gently when she nips my bottom lip with her teeth.
Lauren slows the kiss then grabs both of my hands. “Gotta lock the back door. Meet you upstairs,” she whispers, her voice heavy and tinged with passion.
I take the stairs two at a time. I make a quick stop in our bathroom to brush my teeth, even though it’s pointless to do so as we’ve both been drinking and have alcohol breath. But I brush anyway, hoping to dissolve the tiny bit of panic sitting in my chest. What if Lauren gets sidetracked by Mer? Or another beer, the basement, her weird no-sleep-with-the-girlfriend routine?
But no—there she is on the stairs. And she’s moving quickly. I walk into our bedroom and shut the blinds. As I turn away from the last window, Lauren’s there, and she grabs me. She kisses me hard and fast, her hands moving quickly to lift my shirt over my head, her thumbs trailing against my skin. “Bed,” she mumbles against my mouth, and we fumble backward until we crash onto the bed. Lauren attacks my neck with her mouth as I pull off her shirt and bra. My teeth find her waiting, hard nipples and I take one into my mouth. Lauren’s groan is guttural, and I’m hit with the urge to luxuriate in her body. If I can’t remember the last time we were in this position, I better make sure that I remember this time. I slow my movements, sliding my tongue slowly over her nipple. My right hand teases her left nipple, alternately stroking and tweaking. Lauren whispers, “I love you, Em” as I kiss my way across her chest. Her hands move toward my breasts, still covered by my bra. I settle my mouth on her nipple, taking my time sucking and teasing her. In fact, I’m so involved in what I’m doing that I don’t notice when I’m no longer being touched. And I don’t notice when Lauren’s breathing slows, then becomes rhythmic in its slowness. But I do notice the snore that escapes her throat when I move up to reignite our kissing.