Back Door to Summer / Part Six

For acknowledgments/disclaimers, see Part 1
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Kearney reached with her toes for the lever on the clawfoot tub, adding a trickle of heat to the water in which she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to relax. The citrus-scented water was salving her muscle aches, but having no effect at all on her mental ones or on the knots her stomach was tied in.

Lexie clearly had no such problems. While she had insisted, as usual, on accompanying Kearney into the bathroom – to protect her from the demons that apparently dwelt within its cozy confines – she seem to have decided that her mission could be accomplished while curled up on the bath mat with her eyes closed.

Wish I could close my eyes, too, thought Kearney. But I don’t think that’s going to work. Not today.

What had she said to Lexie this morning? Wake up and smell the kitty litter? That applied to today’s events all too well, unfortunately. There was no getting around this; the only way out of the shitty way she was feeling was smack dab through the middle of it. She took a deep breath, then let the floodgates swing open ...

Kearney’s body tensed in anticipation of what was to come.

She might have gotten away with that. Things might have been ... not great, but okay. If she had stopped there. Or if she’d said it with just the right inflection.

But she hadn’t. Gotten the tone right, that is. She’d sounded edgy, even to herself. And a weird, unintended emphasis on the words “doing it” had made the phrase sound more than faintly obscene, instead of flirtatious.

She hadn’t stopped when she was only slightly behind, either. Of course not.

Kearney pressed her hands hard against her eyes, trying to blot out the rest. To forget the disbelieving stare and the clenched hands she’d seen when she’d turned back toward Jesse and Frank. To forget the ball of ice that had formed in her gut when she realized where her blathering had taken her this time and how it might be construed.

She couldn’t remember exactly how she managed to extricate herself from the house, except that she’d done it very clumsily. She’d murmured something about exhaustion. About a project waiting at work. About how moody people got during the holidays.

She’d meant herself, of course, though it was clear from the look on Frank’s face that he thought she’d meant them. He had looked, in fact, as if he’d like to kick her, Frankenleg permitting, into the next county.

Which was understandable, sort of, but also confusing. There was no way they could have known about her conversation with Mrs. R – and that hadn’t been on her mind in any damned case. She had been talking about movies, for god’s sake! Admittedly, in hindsight, “fruitcake” might not have been the most sensitive term she could have used in connection with gender bender films, but there was a perfectly defensible reason to use it the way she had – from a rhetorical standpoint, at least.

What did he have to complain about anyway? She’d made it pretty clear who she was interested in, after all. She’d even bleated about how much she’d missed him. She winced, imagining the dumbass smile that she must have had plastered on her face when she said it.

So, is simpering some kind of crime? Or wanting to connect with someone? It’s Christmas, after all, and we’re practically going steady. Kind of... Well, dating, for sure. Or we were. Until the election, anyway.

All right, already. I need to adjust my priorities. I get that. Frank seems to, too. Otherwise, why invite me to that Republican thingie next week? If not to work on our relationship, I mean?

Fine. I don’t have any finesse. It’s not like I have a lot of experience in this area. And before you say it – yeah, yeah, yeah, I was engaged for three years, but my relationship with Brandon was never like that and you damn well know it!

The room was silent, save for the sound of labored breathing and the occasional plink of water dripping from the tap into the tub.

An angry flounce generated a wave large enough to break over the edge of the tub. The resulting shower sent Lexie scrambling for higher ground. She ended up perched on the neatly closed seat of the toilet, her eyes narrowed and tail puffed out in protest.

Well, it’s not like that never happened before, is it?!

Exactly. Spring Fling. Not National Dyke Day. What the hell was Chris thinking?

I was engaged! She knew that!

Reject them, hell! I didn’t even recognize them!

Of course, she remembered — especially after the replay earlier in the day. The expressions on Jesse’s face as she’d stammered her way to the door had been hauntingly familiar. Pain. Disappointment. Anger. Maybe even fear. God, that one had hurt.

You ever consider ...

You ever consider that I acted the way I did today because of Chris? Because, you know, if Jesse was also thinking that I was ... well, you know, I wouldn’t want to wound her the way I wounded Chris?

No, but ...

Kearney rubbed her forehead, trying to ease the throbbing and confusion there.

Yeah, that’s it. Exactly ...

“Shut the fuck up!”

Lexie eyed the white-knuckled hands clasping the edges of the old-fashioned tub, preparing to intervene if Kearney tried to rise before she got her trembling under control. She thought with frustration about the boom box in the next room and that gentle song it had played about the hardest lessons being the ones you learn all alone. Kearney needed to hear it again. It had been a long time coming and she had a very long way to go, but she was getting ready to take the first hard steps.

She had to do it on her own, Lexie knew. She also vowed that Kearney would not be alone on this journey, that she would be there whenever Kearney needed a friend. Or a prod, push, twitch or trip in the right direction. She lowered her head to her paws, her watchful eyes never leaving her companion’s pale form, waiting for the next milestone or crossroads to make its appearance.

Continued in Back Door to Summer, Part Seven

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