THE MORNING OF THE FOURTEENTH
This is an original story. All characters are created by me.
This story depicts a romantic relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.
All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:
Written: December 22nd - 24th, 2014 for the 2015 Royal Academy of Bards' Valentine's Day Invitational.
As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D
Description: For Catherine O'Hearn, the morning of the fourteenth is a time for reflection. Either it will become the greatest day of her life, or the biggest disaster. To get some perspective and to help calm her jittery nerves, she makes a string of phone calls to important people from her past and present to get their opinion. It's her wedding day - and she has doubts…
THE MORNING OF THE FOURTEENTH
Catherine O'Hearn grew tired of staring at the same shadows on the ceiling of her bedroom performing the same, sweeping patterns over and over and over again. With a long, deep sigh, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. Reaching over to her bedside table, she clicked on the little button on her alarm clock and saw it was only just past dawn.
"Hell," she grumbled, rubbing her weary face. "No sleep whatsoever. Terrific. Just terrific. What a night… Jeez, it's gonna be some day…"
Her sleeping outfit of a tank top and boxers weren't enough to keep out the early morning chill, so she got up and shuffled over to the chair where she had arranged all her clothes for the day - perhaps the most important day of her life.
She went back to the bed to put on a pair of warm socks before she donned a terrycloth bathrobe and shuffled over to the window to pull aside her bedroom curtains.
Outside, the heavens were peppered with beautiful, purple streaks that tore across the eastern sky. Layers upon layers of clouds carried every imaginable shade of purple, and even as Catherine watched the spectacle from her ninth-floor bedroom window, new colors like royal blue and pale orange joined the mix to create an amazing spectacle.
The shadows on the ceiling were created by the branches on a pair of beech trees close by that swayed in the gentle breeze. The early birds flew up into the multi-colored sky and became dots against the glorious background; their flapping wings enabling them to perform wild maneuvers.
Catherine watched it, but didn't really see any of it. Too preoccupied with the life-altering day ahead, she grunted and tied the belt on the bathrobe to have something to do with her hands. "The break of dawn on the morning of the fourteenth…" she mumbled, looking out at the purple splendor, "and I didn't get a wink of sleep last night 'cos I had cold feet."
She chuckled and looked down at her Road Runner socks. To underline her point, she wiggled her toes. "And not the kind of cold feet warm socks can cure! Jeez…"
Yawning, she turned away from the window and shuffled into the bathroom to take care of her morning business.
Ten minutes later, she shuffled into her living room and sat down on the couch. With Lauren not there, everything was so cold and quiet, but as Catherine had been told time and time again, the sacred traditions had been passed down through the generations and should be upheld out of respect for the forefathers. Thus, she and Lauren had to be apart for the final three days.
She leaned forward and pulled a stack of papers closer to her. The one on top was an early version of the invitation that she and Lauren had spent an entire afternoon folding and sticking into outrageously expensive cards. It read,
Valentine's Day & A Grand Wedding!
You are hereby formally invited to Lauren and Catherine's wedding on Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - Valentine's Day!
The ceremony will take place at the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary. Once the formal part is over, we have arranged transportation to the-'
Catherine didn't need to read more. Every word was etched into her brain from the countless hours she and her girlfriend had toiled over the invitations to get them just right. "So this is gonna be my wedding day," she mumbled, pushing away the papers. "I hope it won't be remembered as the day I chickened out and ran away from it all. Hope not… I guess I'll find out later."
A growing sense of unease inside her meant that rest was impossible to find. She tried to look at a magazine that she had left on the couch the night before, but it couldn't hold her interest.
Instead, she got up and shuffled around the living room. The two-room apartment on the ninth floor of a reputable complex wasn't flashy or extravagant, but she had paid for it herself with her hard-earned money.
She had always had all kinds of odd jobs, but now, at twenty-nine, she had finally found something she wanted to do for longer than six months: she worked for a company that owned a chain of storage hotels. Her boss had given her a choice of either sitting in an office all day pushing pencils, or driving around to the various storage facilities to make sure they were neat and tidy in accordance with the company policy.
The choice couldn't have been easier for her. Sitting in an office doing the same chores day-in, day-out would have done her head in within a few weeks, but being on the road like her Dad, seeing all kinds of things and meeting all kinds of people in all kinds of situations was exactly her thing.
That's how she had met Lauren Nichols. One day not long into her new job, she had been sent out to assist a woman who was there to open up a storage room that had been owned by a late relative. The payment was overdue because of the relative's prolonged illness, and the charming Miss Nichols wanted to clear out the room before the storage company would put the contents up for auction.
While Catherine helped Lauren clear the storage room and put the crates into a rented van, she had a hard time tearing herself away from the husky beauty with the sparkling eyes and the charming personality.
Lightning struck them both and the rest was history.
Catherine came back to the present and let out a sigh. She shuffled over to the coffee table and looked at the wedding invitation. Though it was upside down, she recognized every word. "Gawd, I'm scared shitless…" she mumbled, running her hands through her short hair. She cast a final glance at the purple streaks of dawn through the glass balcony door before she shuffled into the kitchen to make herself breakfast.
Breakfast became a glass of orange juice and half a slice of buttered toast - that was all her trembling stomach would allow her to eat. Instead, she made herself a mug of soothing camomile tea and shuffled back into the bedroom to get dressed while the hot beverage cooled off enough for her to drink.
A hastily donned college sweatsuit later, Catherine shuffled around in circles holding the mug. Although it was Lauren's favorite morning drink, Catherine had never warmed up to tea in general, and especially not camomile tea. The simple fact that it was Lauren's favorite morning drink meant that she felt she had to like it. Besides, it was cheaper to only buy tea, and she had plenty of coffee during the day. She could live with it.
The first sip made her pull her lips back in a grimace, but she swallowed it and allowed the soothing tea to warm her insides. She went over to the sideboard with the TV and took the remote, but she never made it far enough to click any of the buttons.
Holding the remote passively, she looked at the sideboard's two doors. When she and Lauren had moved in together, they had chosen Catherine's apartment because Lauren lived in a multi-generational household with her younger brother, her parents and her grandparents. It was a noble and unique setup, but it didn't leave any room for a stranger like Catherine, even one who was people-friendly.
She had spent a few days there at the time when their relationship turned serious, but it had been too much of a strain on Catherine and her peace of mind. If she and Lauren were to have a common future, it needed to be at Catherine's place, and that's what happened.
Inside the left wing of the sideboard, Catherine kept a small metal cash box that contained a few items that she wanted to keep private from Lauren. The right wing of the sideboard held a similar box that had Lauren's name and padlock on it. It was unusual, but they had agreed on doing it that way, and they had each other's full blessing.
Catherine licked her lips and put the mug of tea and the TV remote back on the sideboard. Kneeling down, she opened the wing door and took her own cash box. She carried it into the bedroom so the hard edges wouldn't scratch any of the sensitive, wooden surfaces in the living room. On her way past her jacket in the connecting hallway, she took her Samsung and her wallet that contained the key.
With the cash box open, she took the item she was looking for: her little black book of phone numbers from the ancient past. Most were outdated, but two numbers in particular were still active - she knew because she had checked. Taking the book, she put the cash box down on the carpet and swept her legs up into bed.
Catherine sighed and turned on her smartphone. She closed her eyes and snuggled down while she waited for everything to come alive. When it was, she punched in the numbers and put the phone to her ear.
'Catherine, what the hell you callin' at this ungodly hour for? If junior wakes up because of your call, I'm gonna come over and smack the shit outta ya!' an agitated female voice said at the other end of the line. As always, Lupe Rosales had the mouth of a wharf rat, and she sounded like she had just sunk her teeth into a bitter lemon.
"Hi, Lupe. Nah, I just wanted to… to tell you that I'm getting married today." Catherine toyed with her sweatshirt while she spoke. She remembered back to the couple of months she and Lupe had been an item. Fiery didn't begin to describe it. They got physical on a daily basis, either one way or the other. They'd had so much going on they were hit by acute burnout after a while. They had called it quits but had continued to stay in touch through an endless list of other flings, dalliances and failed relationships.
'What? No fuckin' way!'
'The Prowler getting hitched? Girl, who'd ya find to put up with your sorry ass? Mother fuckin' Theresa? Don't believe a fuckin' word of it, Catherine.'
"Believe it, Lupe."
'You know as well as I do you ain't cut out for marriage. No way, no how, no ma'am. Sleep next to the same girl each night? Wake up next to the same girl each morning? And you get to see her bad hair days and smell her bad breath and hold her hand when she's loaded and she's gonna puke all over you and the leather couch…'
"We don't have a-"
'No way, Catherine. That's why women like you and me leave at midnight… to get away from all that crap.'
"What a load of bull, Lupe…"
'Is it? How long ya think ya gonna last before your mind starts wandering? Or your eyes? And when they're roaming, you know your hands will be next. How's your new wife gonna react if… hell, make that when she catches you with your tongue up someone else's honeypot?'
"Never gonna happen."
'Yeah, right. Of course. Whatever you say, Prowler. I'll give you a month.'
Catherine sighed out loud and rubbed her eyes. "I didn't call to let you bitch in my ear, Lupe. I just wanted to let you know that I'm getting married. Hell, you married a guy! A guy, Lupe… and you wore your grandmother's pure white wedding dress at the ceremony! How's that for not believing a word of what's going on?"
'That was different.'
'Different 'cos in my family, girls marry boys, end of fuckin' discussion. We marry boys, we pop out four or five snotty brats and then we get to spend all fuckin' day up to our fuckin' eyeballs in dirty diapers- hey… is Mother Theresa pregnant? She fuckin' is, isn't she? Hell yeah she is, and now you're calling me to get some tips.'
"My girlfriend isn't pregnant!"
'Take my word for it, girl… before the Fourth of Ju-fuckin'-ly she will be. Yeah, she will be.'
"No way," Catherine said and rubbed her eyes again. Growling, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and sighed deeply. "Naw, this isn't going anywhere. I'm getting married. Now you know. Talk to you lat-"
'Hey, wait a fuckin' minute, Catherine… I'm happy for you. Really, I am. But I'm telling you it just won't last, girl. Sorry. But I appreciate the call.'
Chuckling darkly, Catherine shook her head and looked out of the bedroom window at the heavens that had turned a more regular shade of blue-gray. "Yeah, you're welcome. Later, Lupe."
The Samsung was put on the bed. "Aw, that went well," Catherine said and stared at nothing in particular. The conversation hadn't done anything for the butterfly farm she had in her gut - in fact, the little critters flapped their wings even harder after Lupe's words. " 'Cos she's right," she mumbled, getting up from the bed.
The bathroom mirror had steamed up as a result of Catherine's shower, but she moved her hand across the smooth surface to be able to see herself. A moment later, she wished she hadn't. The conditioner had done a great job taming her wild locks, but it couldn't do anything to her pasty hue, her red, bleary eyes or the bags and dark circles under them.
"Catherine, you're not eighteen anymore… damn, when did that happen?" she said, tracing the faint lines under and around her eyes. "I look like shit… on my wedding day… who in their right mind would say I do to that sorry ass there?" she continued, pointing a thumb at the reflection.
Snarling, she looked away from the mirror to find the comb she always used. While she swept her hair back from her forehead, she decided that the wet look was hot this year - it would save her ten minutes with the blow dryer that she could use to mow the lawns that had sprouted from her pits.
All done, she rubbed herself dry, used half a can of deodorant and wrapped the towel around her body. The last thing she did before she left the bathroom was to start the ventilation. She never turned it on while she was in there - the fan went at such high speed it created a remorseless whine that always drilled holes in her brain.
She padded into the bedroom on bare feet, leaving behind imprints in the carpet simply from the level of moisture in the bathroom. After shedding the towel, she put on a brand new set of nice, elegant underwear that Lauren had chosen for her. Apparently, it would be fun to take off on their wedding night - Catherine didn't object to that part of it. Dark-blue and lacy, the bra was in a push-up cut that the blurb on the bag promised would be tight-fitting but comfortable. It was the former, but definitely not the latter. At least the matching panties were a better fit.
Catherine chuckled and tried to get the bra lined up so it wouldn't restrict her breathing too much. She managed to get everything into place eventually. Even as her hand approached the knob on the closet door to retrieve her wedding outfit, the butterflies in her stomach flapped their wings all at once. She removed her hand like she had been burned and settled for putting the college sweatsuit back on.
She sat down on the bed and propped her head up on her arms to stall for as long as she could. Because the look out of the bedroom window was directly onto the two beeches, the view was better than in the living room, and she could sit there for hours on end when she was in a melancholy mood, or when Lauren was chatting over the phone with her parents. After a minute or two, she realized she was being an idiot - the wedding outfit called her from the closet.
Lauren dearly wanted to go the whole nine yards and wear a proper, veiled dress on her wedding day, but Catherine had balked at the idea of her wearing a matching one. After much Googling around, they had found a shop nearby that rented out tuxedos for women.
Catherine got up from the bed, pushed aside the closet door and took out the dress bag. As she put it on the bed and pulled down the mile-long zipper, she had to admit the outfit did look pretty damn good. Leather shoes in a neutral gray, pale-gray pants with a razor-sharp crease, a two-pocket, three-button vest with a pale-gray front and a dark-gray back, a white shirt with a specially designed collar - Catherine had chosen an O-neck collar although Lauren thought the V-neck looked better - and a pale-gray, long-tailed penguin coat.
A top hat had come with the tuxedo, but Catherine had flat out refused to wear it. She had promised Lauren that she would find some kind of headgear for the big day so she wouldn't be the only one there without a hat, but she had pushed it off until it was too late. "I suppose I could wear the threadbare baseball cap I use when I'm driving… the one that says Female Body Investigator," she mumbled, zipping the dress bag shut again.
She ran her fingers across the windows in the plastic bag while she thought of how fine Lauren would undoubtedly look in her off-white, veiled wedding dress. She would be the epitome of gorgeous, classy and elegant, that much was certain. Her eyes would sparkle and perhaps turn moist behind the veil, she would cock her head and hold her hands in that seemingly shy, unassuming style of hers, and she would wear a nervous but winning smile that would make Catherine's knees knock.
Of course, Lauren's entire family would be behind her, waiting impatiently for their little girl to walk down the aisle with her blushing bride on her arm. That thought alone made the butterflies in Catherine's gut perform a loop. The dashing prince that most parents dreamt of had turned into a roguish princess, but they were remarkably cool about it.
Lauren's family was big on traditions. Every last one needed to be upheld like the Gospel, be it enforced separation in the last three days before the wedding, the presentation of the vows in formal English, and indeed the oddly quaint notion that sleeping together should be saved for the first night as a married couple.
"Well, they're shit outta luck with that one," Catherine said with a chuckle as she glanced at their double-bed that had been christened at the first opportunity after Lauren had moved in. "Man… with all their traditions, they'll probably be expecting grandchildren come Christmas… donors and inseminations and morning sickness and dirty diapers… Jeez, Lupe's gonna be proven right after all."
A brief shiver flashed across Catherine's body, and she shimmied on the spot to make it go away. Before she shuffled back into the living room, she reached down and patted the mattress that had already seen plenty of action of the most lovely kind.
Later, Catherine pulled the dress bag out of the closet and spread the contents carefully out onto the bed. She stood with her hands on her hips and studied the various garments when a thought entered her mind - there was someone else she wanted to tell that she was getting married. Or rather, there was someone else whose opinion she needed.
"Now where did I write down Frosty's number?" she mumbled, looking through her little black book. She found Mark Flaherty's phone number on the inside of the back cover where she had written it down after stumbling across his name on an insurance company website completely by accident.
Snatching her Samsung, she strode into the living room and threw herself onto the couch. She punched in the numbers and hoped she could establish a connection.
'Uh, hello, who is this?' a male voice said, sounding somewhat confused.
"Hi, Frosty… can you guess who it is yet?"
'Fros- what the hell? Cat O'Hearn, is that you? The Midnight Prowler?!'
"The one and the same," Catherine said, chuckling out loud over the sound of utter astonishment in Mark's voice. Back in the day, in her just-barely-two semesters in college, she and Mark had been inseparable. Both young, wild and free, they quickly discovered they had a mutual interest - girls. It didn't take long for them to become the most feared one-two combination at the entire college. It didn't matter which party Mr. Cool, or Frosty as he was also known because he was so cool he was nearly freezing, and the Midnight Prowler were invited to, they always left a line of broken hearts in their wake.
'Dude! What the hell!'
"Yeah, I know… whassup, Mr. Cool?"
'Oh, everything that's supposed to be.'
"Glad to hear it. What's that I hear about you getting to be associate partner at Empire Insurance? That's pretty awesome, Frosty. Congratulations."
'Yeah, yeah… that's right. Thanks, Cat. Did you see that on our website?'
"Yeah. Listen, uh, I just wanted to tell you that… well, that I'm getting married."
'Let me guess… on April first?'
'No way, José,' Mark said, and Catherine could almost hear him shaking his head.
'No, but… the Midnight Prowler getting married? I mean… come on! You?'
Catherine scrunched up her face and folded her legs up underneath her. "Yeah, me. Why shouldn't I be able to get married, Mark? I mean, I'm-"
'How many hearts did you steal back then, Cat? Or kisses? Or panties? Plenty, or so I heard.'
"About the same number you did, my friend."
'Probably, but I'm still single… and I'm gonna stay that way.'
"So, what, you're humpin' the CEO's wife? Or his daughter?" Catherine said, sticking out her tongue at the telephone although Mark wouldn't be able to see it.
'Haw, haw… no.'
"Don't tell me you haven't thought about it?"
'His daughter… weeeellll, maybe. Don't change the subject on me, Prowler! I… shit, I just can't see you getting married. It's… it's just not you. Do I know the gorgeous dame? Is she someone from the old days?'
"No and no. She's all mine. And I'm a little upset that you don't think I could marry someone, Mark…" Catherine said and shifted uncomfortably.
'Well, of course you can marry someone, technically… but will it be enough for you? I mean, emotionally? Physically? Mmmm…'
" 'Mmmm'? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
'Well, I remember some of the things we did back then, dude… we stirred up some heavy shit, didn't we? Lots of girls every weekend… drinking, smoking weed, exploring the female form…?'
"Speak for yourself, Frosty… I never smoked weed."
'Sure you did, you just can't remember 'cos of the, ba-da-bing, weed. No, but… dude, seriously, you weren't exactly known as an image of celibacy back then, ya know. You had a new girl on your arm each time we met. Right?'
'But you know… I can hear it in your voice. You've changed. Is it the real thing with this dame?'
Catherine pulled back her lips in a grimace. She tried to go inside herself to find out what she really, honestly felt about Lauren and the fact they were getting married in a few hours. The mental projection of the huge procedure at the church was enough to give her heartburn, but Lauren's smiling face tempered her grievance with the whole thing.
Lauren's sparkling eyes, her charm, the occasional mischief she produced when she was in that special mood - all those things and more added up to a smile on Catherine's face. "Yeah," she said, shuffling around on the couch. "Yeah, it is, Mark. It's the real thing with her. It's the damn wedding itself and all the shit that goes with it that scares the crap out of me."
'Thought as much. Wow, the Prowler's getting married… did you have a wicked bachelorette party last night?'
"Nah. I don't really know anyone to have one with."
'Prowler, you could have invited me! Dude, we coulda spiked the punch, we coulda played Guess Whose Panties, we coulda played Kiss My Boobie… we coulda done a lotta things! Fact is I'm pretty pissed that I didn't get an invite for your wedding in the first place. I am gonna come and visit you, ya know. You and your new wife. Then we're gonna tell some tall tales about life in the fast lane… and the sloooooow lane between the sheets, dude…'
'Just kidding. Mostly.'
'Dude, you were up to no good back then… that's why you got the nickname The Midnight Prowler 'cos you were always stalking around underneath the windows of the sorority dorm sweet-talkin' some classy chick. And now you're getting married. Wow.'
"So I got your blessing or what?" Catherine said with a chuckle.
'Yeah, yeah, Cat. You do. Hey, it was nice talking to you… don't be a stranger, okay? I demand to hear your voice from time to time.'
"I'll call you and invite you over for lunch sometime. We'll make the food, you bring the-"
'Liquid nourishment! You betcha! Bye, Cat. Wow, you're really getting married!'
"Yeah I am, you crazy dude," Catherine said as she closed the connection. She put the warm phone onto the coffee table and leaned back against the backrest of the couch.
Closing her eyes, the image of Lauren's smiling face came to her unprompted. The only problem was that everything else in connection with the ceremony followed close behind. Once more, the butterflies in Catherine's gut all flapped their wings at the same time.
"What a joke… when did I become so damn sensitive?" Catherine mumbled and rubbed her tummy. "But Mark did have a point… no, two. One, I love Lauren. And two… we did do a lot of shit back then. I better clear out my old college trunk before Lauren has a chance to peek into it," she said and got up from the couch.
Catherine locked the apartment door behind her and shuffled down the hallway to get to the elevator. She had put on her sturdy workboots so she didn't have to worry about what she might step in down in the basement. She brought a pair of black garbage bags to get rid of the most embarrassing items, and a powerful LED flashlight that she knew could penetrate the creepy darkness that always came after a while because the strip lights in the ceiling were old and poorly maintained. To complete the ensemble, she had her Samsung around her neck on a key chain.
The elevator car arrived a short time after she had pressed the button. Inside the car, she pressed Basement and watched the creaky, old doors slide shut. While she went nine floors down, she crinkled her nose and contemplated the unfortunate fact that it always reeked of garbage in the elevator shaft - a byproduct of the shaft being located directly next to the waste chute.
Downstairs, the creaky doors slid open to reveal a dusty, semi-dark corridor. Once bitten, twice prepared - the first thing she did was to click the LED flashlight on and move into the darkness to get to the light switch on the opposite wall. The strip lights came to life after a series of dizzying flashes.
The storage room she had access to was located a good thirty yards down another corridor, but walking down there wasn't too creepy - yet - since the ceiling lights were still working.
The corridor wasn't particularly inviting with bare walls made of pale-gray concrete everywhere, only broken up by dark-green metal doors. On top of being inhospitable because of the colors, it was dusty and smelled of mold and garbage. All in all, it wasn't a place anyone would want to spend more time at than absolutely necessary.
Reaching the storage room door, Catherine inserted the key into the burglar-proof lock and twisted it several times to get the internal workings to release. The smell of old, moldy basement was even stronger inside the room than out in the hallway, and she crinkled her nose again - even if the smell was one she encountered every single day at work when she opened up old lockers.
She turned on the flashlight again to find the light switch that was just inside the door to the right. Once she flicked it, a naked bulb lit up and shone a bleak cone of light down onto some of her older worldly possessions.
The room wasn't large, only seven by ten feet, but metal shelf systems heavily laden with cardboard boxes covered every wall, and more cardboard boxes stood on the floor between the shelves. In a rare flash of wisdom, she had written on the boxes with a fiber-tip permanent marker instead of applying post-it stickers that she knew would fall off before she closed the door - thus, she knew exactly where to look if she needed her old stuff. Not that she ever did.
She quickly found the trunk she was looking for. It was in fact an old sea chest given to her by her father when she went off to college on a scholarship. It was a replica rather than an original, but it was rock-solid and could take years of abuse of the college kind without getting as much as a bent latch. Taking a deep breath, she took the heavy chest off its shelf and carried it over to a rickety table that had been squeezed in between two shelves in the corner of the storage room.
Opening it, she was instantly reminded of how long ago it had been since she had tried her hand at college: a personal organizer from 2006 was on top of the pile inside the chest. She flipped through it, but it was mostly old phone numbers and various nonsense. A couple of alternative hard rock CDs followed that she put aside for later. The next item was a poster of a scantily clad woman that had graced her dorm room wall. Some jokester had painted a mustache on the fair lady - it may have been Mark, Mr. Cool, she couldn't remember.
Catherine chuckled, crumpled up the old poster and threw it into the plastic garbage bag. The smile froze on her face when a red pair of panties came into view. Smirking broadly, she took the panties and held them up against the naked bulb. She had no recollection of ever owning such a pair of underwear, but there they were. "Some gal never got her panties back," she mumbled as she threw them into the garbage bag.
It only got worse after that: a stack of porn magazines that she had traded with Mark Flaherty and others at the dorm went straight into the garbage bag, as did a large notebook that contained a chain letter that had been sent around the dorm. It had started out as innocent love poems, and the idea was that everyone should add a poem or a paragraph of text to it. Inevitably, it turned to hardcore, triple-X smut. It got so bad they had to keep it a secret from the dorm masters and the hall chiefs, and Catherine ended up protecting it 'with her life.'
A small bag of weed that had turned to dust came into view, but it was quickly chucked into the garbage bag. Just as Catherine reached for the next item, a creepy groan was heard from the connecting hallway that made her nape hairs stand on edge. Moments later, the strip lights went out.
"Hell, it's the zombie apocalypse," Catherine groaned, glad that she was standing under the naked bulb. Even so, she turned on the LED flashlight and peeked out into the hallway to see if she had to make a run for it. As expected, it was empty.
Going back in, the cone from the flashlight struck a furry object up on one of the top shelves. "Oh, look at that… I wondered what had happened to that thing," she said and stepped up on the lower shelf to reach the furry object. She pulled it down and blew the dust off what proved to be a dark-gray, genuine Borsalino fedora hat handed down to her from her grandfather and then her father. "Wow, this is perfect for today," she mumbled, slapping it against her thigh a couple of times to make sure no legged or winged critters were hiding inside.
She put it on and snapped a selfie so she could see how she looked. Apart from the red eyes and the pasty hue, she was all right. "Good," she said and let out a deep sigh. "Good. One less thing to worry about. One down, ten thousand to go."
Realizing she was now ready to wear something old, the hat, something borrowed, the tuxedo, and something blue, the underwear, she only needed to find something new to uphold yet another tradition. A quick thought of 'Lauren will be proud of me,' flashed through her mind and made her smile broadly.
The next moment saw her jumping a foot in the air as the strip lights came back to life with a pained groan and a series of dizzying flashes. "Jeez! That old piece of shit!" she growled, angrily giving one of the metal shelves a fair smack with her hand. The remaining items in the sea chest were far less embarrassing than those she had thrown away, so she closed the lid and put it back on the shelf.
After wrapping the plastic garbage bags that contained all the critical items, she took the two CDs and left the storage room with the Borsalino fedora safely perched on her locks. The plastic bags were soon put into the appropriate dumpsters inside the waste room to erase them from her life. No more weed, no more smut, no more porn mags, no more mysterious panties.
Grinning, Catherine called for the elevator and clicked off the strip lights that responded by sending out a long, pained groan.
It was late in the fourth quarter; one minute forty left on the game clock. Or possibly one hour forty minutes left until she had to be at the church. Catherine had pulled a chair over to the window where she sat and looked out upon the heavens like a marble statue.
She had a can of soda in her hand, but it was untouched since being cracked open. All she could do was to stare at the trees and further onto the horizon that represented the easy-going, free life she was about to leave behind.
"I love Lauren with all my heart… but I could do without all the hubbub. Gawd, why couldn't we just continue with what we had? That was plenty for me. Traditions, my furry butt," she mumbled, finally taking a sip from the can.
The loud and clear messages delivered to her by Lupe and Mark that she wasn't ready, or even capable, of being with one woman beyond a hot weekend made her scrunch up her face into a mask of annoyance. Taking another sip, she got up and shuffled over to her Samsung that she had left on the coffee table.
A quick look-up later, the phone started ringing. While she waited for it to be picked up, she shuffled back to the chair by the window and took her can of soda.
'Hi, Catherine! Did I forget to come over for lunch?' a female voice said.
Catherine smiled at the sound of her old friend Frieda Conway's voice. Many years earlier, Frieda had acted as a self-appointed mentor to the young Catherine when she had taken her first, stumbling steps into the Grab-Bag Bar as a fresh-faced youngling with a strong interest in women but an even stronger fear of pursuing it.
The smile faded when a pang of guilt struck her at the thought that she hadn't sent an invitation to one of her dearest friends because she was worried about the reaction from Lauren's family. She licked her lips and looked even harder at the horizon. "No, don't worry, Frieda. I just wanted to ask you something."
"Okay… you've been married for a year now…"
'Uh, that's right. I'm not sure where-'
"What's it like after a while?" Catherine said and took a long sip from the can.
'What's what like? Being married?'
'Huh. Are you thinking about getting married, Catherine? Good on you!'
"Well… thanks. So…?"
'It's no different from being in a steady relationship. We still do the same things we did when we were just living together. We live, we love, we fight a little and we kiss and make up. Basically, we're following the same plan, just with the paperwork to prove it. We have common health care now. Common insurance. That's more important than you realize.'
'All the pragmatic stuff isn't the whole picture, though. There's something more, but it's really hard to explain. There's a feeling of… I feel I love my precious girl more now, somehow. There's a stronger bond between us now that it's official. It's just a piece of paper, but it's worked its magic on us. Before, I always felt that… well, that it could end just because one of us got a hangnail. Now, we're obliged to fight for it… obliged to iron out the inevitable differences. Do you understand me?'
"I do, I do…"
'Catherine, what's really on your agenda?'
Catherine drained the can before she chuckled into the telephone. "Well, I have a friend who's thinking about getting married at some point in the future… but she's not sure she's really the marrying kind. She's been told she isn't, but she's… well, she's just not sure what to make of the whole thing."
'Uh-huh?' Frieda said, and the sarcasm was on the verge of dripping through the telephone. 'Excuse me while I blow my nose, Catherine… I think someone just farted in my ear…'
Catherine laughed out loud at the colorful description. "Oh, you know me too well, Frieda."
'I've known you for a decade, Sister! I see right through you!' Frieda said with a matching chuckle.
Toying with a loose thread on her sweatshirt, Catherine decided to jump to the hard facts. "I'm getting married today," she said, and had to move the telephone away from her ear to combat the happy squeal that came the other way.
'Holy shit! Catherine! To whom?'
"No one from the bar or anything. Her name is Lauren Nichols and she's the most beautiful, most caring, most… Jeez, most-everything woman I've ever met."
'Aw, I'm so happy for you! After we're done talking, I'm gonna find the mailman and whack him fifty shades of purple for losing my invitation. Just so you know, I can't make it today… I really would have wanted to be there for you, though…'
Catherine smirked and tore off the loose thread with a snap. "Maybe you could come over for dinner soon, or something?"
'You betcha! After the honeymoon, huh? Where are you gals going? The Bahamas? A luxury cruise in the Mediterranean? I hear Fiji is gorgeous this time of the year. Last year, we went to Cancun for a week.'
"None of the above. We've booked-"
'How about Hawaii, then?'
"No… we've booked the bridal suite for tonight in a hotel downtown. I need to work and so does Lauren. We got bills to pay."
'Oh… okay. Yeah, I know about those… Catherine, listen, in any marriage, you'll have good days and bad days. The trick is to maximize one and minimize the other. I'll bet you're thinking 'How?' right now. Just love each other and make sure you treat each other well. Take it from an expert, there will be fights, but they'll be manageable if your relationship is sincere and genuine… if you maintain a loving baseline, you know? If the air between you is cold and rotten, the fights will be too. Remember that.'
"Yeah, I will… thanks, Frieda."
'You're welcome… but you better send me a copy of the wedding photos! Otherwise the mailman isn't the only one who'll get slapped into next week, you hear me?'
"I hear you loud and clear," Catherine said with a laugh that seemed to come easier than before. "Thanks again. I always learn something when I talk to you. You can cut through the B.S. like no other."
'Flatterer!' Frieda said and chuckled out loud before she closed the connection.
Catherine leaned back in the chair and looked at the horizon. The butterflies in her gut that had bothered her earlier had settled down somewhat, but she could still feel their presence from time to time. Turning around, she cast a glance at the wedding invitations and felt another pang of guilt for not inviting Frieda.
She crinkled her nose and got up. It had been a bad mistake not to invite one of her dearest friends, but she would have to rectify that later. A quick look at the clock proved she needed to quit stalling and put on her wedding tux so she wouldn't have any negative surprises later on.
A short while later, Catherine had shed the sweatsuit and stood with her entire upper body inside the closet to search for something she could wear that would fulfil the tradition of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. She didn't think a pack of new handkerchiefs would fit the bill, so she threw them back in and kept on looking.
The underwear drawers were next and she eventually found a brand new five-piece pack of gray socks that she had bought and promptly forgotten all about. "Gotcha," she said, tearing open the plastic pack. She took out the first pair and fluffed them so they were ready to put on. They reeked to high heaven of some kind of disgusting chemical used to deter bugs on the month-long sea journey from the People's Republic - or whatever - but she didn't have time to wash them first.
Road Runner soon ended up on the bedroom carpet, replaced by a brand new pair of neutral, gray socks. "And that takes care of that little problem… two down, forty thousand to go," she said, slapping the elastic band against her lower calf.
The push-up bra still wasn't a particularly good fit, and she had to adjust it to get everything to line up in good order. "Hate tight tops… hate 'em with a passion. Can't wait to take it off…" she mumbled, trying to shove the constricting top just a bit further down. "Can't wait for Lauren to take it off," she added with a grin.
As she reached for the white shirt to get on with the program, the Samsung rang and she grabbed that instead. The display simply said 'Dad.'
Catherine sat down on the bed next to the dress bag and answered the call. "Hi, Dad. I'm really glad to hear from you."
'Hi, my pretty princess,' an older male voice with a strong family resemblance said through a crackling connection. 'It's your big day today. You got the butterflies yet?'
"Boy, do I ever. They've been chasin' me all morning," Catherine said with a chuckle. She pushed the dress bag aside and swung her legs up into the bed. First things first, no matter what the clock said. Hearing her father's voice helped calm her down like it invariably did, and she took Lauren's pillow and held it to her chest while she spoke to help steer the process along.
'Don't sweat it, Princess. Everything's gonna be all right. Trust me.' Barry O'Hearn's voice was frequently interrupted by crackles and static, and it sounded like he was trying to make the call from another planet.
"It's a bad connection, Dad… where are you?"
'I'm at Raphael's Glide-In. A truck stop on Interstate two-seven near Lubbock southbound for El Paso. I'm hauling steel pipes for some industry or 'nother over there. Weighs nearly forty ton. Anyhow, do you want me to try calling you again?'
"No, it might not go through at all. So… how are you?"
'I'm just fine, Princess. My back's giving me some grief, but eh, whatever. Oh yeah, and I'm constipated but I'm not sure you wanted to hear that, ha ha. Hey, I hope you know I'm really sorry I can't be there on your big day. I'm with you in my thoughts, baby. Lauren is a fantastic girl… it's gonna go like a dream. Don't you worry 'bout a thing.'
"I'm crossin' my fingers that you're right, Dad. Jeez, I'm telling you… I've been having doubts," Catherine said quietly while she rubbed her eyes with her free hand.
"No. About her family and all that crazy stuff."
'Yeah, okay. I know what you mean. Before I married your mother, I went through all kinds of hell trying to decide whether or not I should go ahead with it. I mean, a truck driver… what the hell did I have to offer, you know?'
"I know… that's exactly how I've felt recently," Catherine said with a sad chuckle. She pressed the pillow closer to her so she could get a whiff of Lauren's scent. It soothed her, but even so, her stomach was growing upset all over again. She glanced at the alarm clock and knew she needed to quit stalling.
'Your mother and me had a lot of good years, Princess. I guess what I'm trying to tell you is don't doubt yourself too much.'
"But you got divorced, Dad…"
'We did, but it was because of the crazy hours this job has always had. Two weeks away, five days home, two weeks away… you can't build a solid relationship around that, especially not when the other party isn't interested in coming along for a run. You and Lauren aren't like that at all. You both have regular, steady day jobs that allow you to spend the evenings together. Not to mention the nights, heh heh…'
"Dad! Don't go there… please!" Catherine croaked, rubbing her brow.
'Sorry, Princess,' Barry said, but it was evident from the chuckle that followed that he was anything but. 'Which reminds me… did you ever get hold of your mother? Is she coming for the wedding?'
"No. She never returned my calls or answered my letters."
'Yeah… she never really warmed up to the fact that you liked girls.'
"No. Her loss," Catherine said in a steely, determined voice. "I don't give a flying F about her."
'Catherine, on a more serious note… I'm very, very happy for you. From the bottom of my heart.'
"Thank you so much, Dad."
'I'm also proud of you. You were a wild child and an even wilder teen… too wild on occasion… but not only have you grown up, you've matured. You've turned into a woman that would and will be a solid partner and wife for anyone lucky enough to find you.'
'That's my honest opinion, Princess. Back when you discovered who you were and all those things, we didn't always see eye to eye… but now… now I'm behind you a hundred percent. Catherine, go make Lauren happy. Focus on her… love her with all you've got and the rest will follow.'
"Jeez, Dad… you're gonna make me cry," Catherine said in a thick voice. Even as she said it, her right eye leaked a tear that she wiped away in a hurry. Tough girls didn't cry, not even when they were told such a message of support. Clearing her throat, she sniffed Lauren's pillow for comfort. "Thanks, Dad… I'm… I can't speak right now. Love you… and I'm so glad you called."
'Love you too, my pretty princess. The next time I swing by your way, I'll come visit you gals. Okay?'
"Okay, Dad… I'd like that. Lauren would like that too."
'Sounds like we got ourselves a deal! Gotta go, Catherine… Southbound and down!'
"Bye, Dad," Catherine said and closed the connection. Drawing a heavy breath, she put away the telephone and buried her face in her hands. Several deep breaths later, she wiped her eyes and leaned her head back on the pillow to stare up at the ceiling - although she didn't actually see much of anything.
With the clock counting down at a frantic rate, Catherine stood in front of the bathroom mirror touching up her hairdo to make the locks fall just right. The gray leather shoes, the creased pants, the two-pocket, two-tone vest, the white O-neck shirt and finally the pale-gray, long-tailed penguin coat - she had donned it all: the entire wedding outfit. She had even added the ubiquitous, and highly fragile, crimson rose as the boutonniere.
She looked fantastic, but as she combed her hair for the umpteenth time, she felt she was standing beside herself, watching the whole thing unfold like in a bad B-movie.
Her stomach was no longer merely acting up, it was churning. She had so much nervous energy buzzing around her system she couldn't even relax enough to whistle. "Catherine, you're gonna drop dead if ya don't calm the hell down!" she mumbled, trying to stare a hole in the mirror. "How the hell I'm gonna get through the next couple of hours alive and in one piece, I have no idea… no idea whatsoever."
Simple breathing exercises had no effect on her nervousness, so she tried to hold her breath for thirty seconds and then let it out like a leaking balloon to convince her body to calm down. It only worked to a certain extent, but as soon as she left the bathroom, her jitters came back and she bounced around like a tiger in a cage.
"My dearest Lauren," Catherine mumbled, walking around in a circle in the living room. "I hereby present my sacred vows to thee. These vows shall form the base of… to… something. Jeez, who the hell talks like that in 2015! That damn family and their damn archaic traditions!"
Grunting, she strode over to the coffee table and picked up the cue sheet. She licked her lips and mumbled along to the text that had been printed in a font called Goudy Old Style to keep with the theme. "My dearest Lauren. I hereby present my sacred vows to thee. These vows shall form the heart of our marriage that has been blessed by Our Lord and… blah, blah, blah. Crap, I'm never gonna learn this shit."
She threw the cue sheet onto the coffee table and let out a long, deep sigh. Even standing still with her hands on her hips, her nervousness needed an outlet so her right foot started tapping a fast beat. When she shifted her weight to the other leg to kill the gesture, her other foot picked up where the first had left off.
"My dearest Lauren. I hereby present my sacred vows to thee," Catherine said while performing near-Shakespearean gesticulation. "These vows shall form the heart of… oh, screw it!"
She spun around on her heel and stomped into the kitchen where she swooshed open the refrigerator door and took another can of soda. She cracked it open and gulped down half the sweet, sticky liquid in one go. Afterwards, she rolled the can across her steaming hot forehead to attempt a controlled cooling so she wouldn't suffer a meltdown at the wrong time.
The nervous tiger inside her roared and slashed its claws across her gut. All she could do to relieve the tension was to shake her arms and legs, so she did. Then she drained the can and threw it into the bag marked 'for recycling.'
Burping discreetly, she shuffled back into the living room and pulled a footstool over to the sideboard that carried the TV. Not only did the left wing contain her private cash box, it was also the home of their photo albums.
Catherine smiled for the first time in a long while when she opened an old-fashioned album wrapped in dark-brown leather and began to flip through the many photos of her and Lauren mugging for the camera. There were selfies or double-selfies from every possible angle and from every possible location, inside the apartment and elsewhere. The ones they had made in the bedroom weren't safe for the in-laws to see unless they wanted an eyeful of how God had created Woman - and Woman.
She continued to flip through the pages until she arrived at the photo she had been looking for. It was a portrait of Lauren taken by a professional photographer. They had paid through the nose to have it done, but she was glad they had. It was her favorite photo of Lauren, and she couldn't help falling in love all over again each time she saw it. The photographer had caught Lauren's personality, beauty and charm perfectly. The photo simply was Lauren, a feat not often replicated.
The best proof of that statement was the next portrait - the one of herself taken by the same photographer not ten minutes later. Each time she looked at it, she could only see a crude, bumpkin butch in a baseball cap compared to the timeless elegance and beauty of Lauren.
Disgusted with her own imperfect image, Catherine flipped back the page to spend a few more minutes with the photo of the woman she loved. She ran her index finger up and down Lauren's cheek like she was trying to caress her. The smooth, glossy paper was no replacement for the real thing, but at least it calmed down the tiger within her.
She sighed and closed the photo album with a soft phlum. A glance at the cheap wristwatch she lovingly referred to as a Lemonex - older employees at the storage hotels had whispered in her ear that a flashier watch could and would create tension with the less well-off customers - told her she needed to leave within fifteen minutes if she was to make it to the church on time. "Or maybe I should just keep driving… no. I don't wanna lose Lauren. Not now," she mumbled and put the photo album back into the sideboard's wing.
She slapped her thighs to give herself the impetus to get up. Shuffling around, she eventually went over to the couch where she picked up the Borsalino that she plonked down on her carefully arranged locks. "I really oughtta learn those vows," she said, pulling the hat crooked, "Ah, screw 'em. I'll wing it. They'll have a collective heart attack, but…"
A sudden urge to hear Lauren's voice swept over her like a tidal wave that she was powerless to resist. Her feet took her over to the telephone before she knew what she was doing.
Working as a woman on a mission who would accept neither retreat nor surrender, she punched in the numbers for Lauren's mobile and waited for it to be picked up. When it was, she could hear a cacophony of voices and things going on in the background. It sounded like a break-out from a lunatic asylum, and that was exactly how she pictured it too.
'Hello? This is a really bad time right now!' an older female voice that most decidedly wasn't Lauren's said into Catherine's ear.
Catherine thought she recognized the voice as belonging to one of Lauren's aunts, but she couldn't remember the woman's name - Missy, Sissy, perhaps Pissy? Chuckling inwardly, she licked her lips and tried to come up with a plan that would allow her to talk to Lauren. If she just said her name, the old aunt would no doubt slam the phone in her ear because of the traditions.
She remembered something she had read in a comic book once, but wasn't sure if it would work or not given the odd circumstances. Who dares wins, she thought, so she decided to go for it. Clearing her throat, she went down into her deepest register. "Hello, Miss Lauren Nichols?" she said in such a deep voice she could almost double as a wrestling announcer. "This is Bob Buttman from Bob's Plumbing. I'm afraid there's been a problem in your apartment. A pipe under the kitchen-"
'I'm not Lauren Nichols. Is this important? It needs to be really important, Mr. Buckman.'
"That's 'Buttman,' Miss," Catherine said and pulled an ugly face to stop herself from laughing out loud.
'Oh… but it doesn't change the fact that Miss Nichols is very busy at the moment. Just to let you know, this is her wedding day!'
"It's important. I need to speak to Miss Nichols."
'Oh, dear… oh, if it can't be helped. All right, please hold.'
"I'm holdin' on… though just barely," Catherine said, shaking her head at the insane ruse. "Bob Buttman… sheesh," she mumbled, letting out a strangled chuckle.
A series of fumbles and bumbles was heard over the telephone. Catherine tried to listen in, but there was so much racket in the background she was unable to make out any of the voices. At one point, she thought she could hear Lauren say 'Bob who?' but she wasn't sure if she really heard it, or if her brain simply created the message to calm her down.
More fumbles and bumbles were heard, and Catherine began to worry she had been sent to the deep freeze. All of a sudden, she slammed her eyes shut and rode the wave of goosebumps that swept across her from hearing the golden voice in her ear for the first time in far, far too long.
'Hello, this is Lauren Nichols. Who am I talking to?' Lauren said, sounding confused and perhaps a little concerned.
In the mood for a little mischief to offset the nervous energy that had surrounded her all day, Catherine decided to stay in the act, so to speak. "Hello Miss Nichols, this is Bob Buttman from Bob's Plumbing. I'm afraid there's been a burst water pipe in your apartment. I'm here with Miss O'Hearn who's up to her elbows in-"
'Oh my God! Is… Catherine… what…'
"Yes, but don't panic. Miss O'Hearn has skilled hands and she certainly knows how to-" - by then, the relieved laughter that bubbled up from Catherine's chest simply from hearing Lauren's voice meant she couldn't keep up the grotesque act. The deep voice vanished and turned into her own. "No, it's me… please don't hang up. I just needed to hear your voice… I needed you so badly."
'Mister… ahem, Butt-man, that was a nasty trick to pull on an unsuspecting woman!' Lauren said sharply, but the hard words were tempered by the soft edge to her voice.
"I know, and I'm sorry. I didn't know how to get through to you otherwise." Holding the telephone to her ear, Catherine shuffled over to the couch and sat down, remembering to sweep aside the penguin tail as she did so.
'So a pipe has burst? How does my kitchen look?'
"Oh it's neat and tidy. And so is Miss O'Hearn," Catherine said with a chuckle. "She's all dressed up and ready to go. Maybe a little nervous…"
'Gawd, I wish I was just a little nervous. I'm at the point of vomiting here… I'm being pampered… make that hindered… by the entire family. I love them, but… it's getting on my nerves. I just want the whole thing to be over and done with so we can get down to the important stuff!'
"And what would that be, Miss Nichols?"
'Oh, you know… cuddling with my new wife.'
"I can subscribe to that pastime."
'I thought you might, Mr. Buttman. By the way, that's certainly an unusual name…'
"I know," Catherine said and snickered out loud. "I couldn't give your aunt Pissy my real name, could I?"
'Ahem. No, I guess you couldn't. Oh, I'm- I'm- no, wait… I'm on the phone… yes, as you can see… would you mind? I just need two minutes alone with… with the plumber. Yes, it's important! No, Aunt Tessie, I need a word with the-'
Catherine pressed her lips together so she wouldn't laugh out loud at the chaos Lauren was undoubtedly stuck in the middle of. Yet more fumbles and bumbles were heard over the connection, and it sounded like Lauren was trying to herd everyone out of the room she was in.
'Oh, for the love of…!' Lauren finally said, sounding thoroughly annoyed.
"Can I speak freely now, Miss Nichols?"
'Yeah. Catherine… I… I can't wait to see you at the church. At the altar. I can't tell you how nervous I am right now. Everything inside me is bouncing up and down… I can't find rest anywhere. Would you believe it, I caught one of my aunts trying to slip a Valium into my mineral water?'
"I believe it… they're an odd bunch if you ask me. Anyway, I feel the same, hon. I guess it's a good sign that we're nervous… it means we give a damn about the whole thing. Hey, my Dad called from somewhere in Texas. He said that everything was gonna go like a dream and that we shouldn't worry about it."
'Awww, that's so kind of him. Have… have you heard from your mothe-"
"No. Her loss."
'Okay. I'm sorry.'
"Don't be. I'm not. She obviously isn't, either."
'Yeah… so, are you wearing the full penguin suit? I can't wait to see it!'
"I am. And get this, I've found a hat," Catherine said and ran her index finger around the rim of the Borsalino.
"I won't tell you what it is. You'll have to see for yourself. It's plenty cool, lemme tell you."
'So it's not your ancient baseball cap? The black one with the patch that says Female Body Investigator?'
"Oh, no… now you've ruined my big surprise!"
'Silly! Oh, Catherine, can you believe it? We're actually getting married on Valentine's Day! Isn't it just wonderfully romantic? It's what I've always dreamt of… ever since I was a little girl.'
"Yeah, it is… at least I'll be able to remember the date."
'Oh, you didn't just say that! You do realize my fingers are perfect for tickling, right? Ugh… wait… no, I can't talk for much longer. The advancing army is trying to break down the door.'
"Damn," Catherine said and sat up straight in the couch. "It was so good to hear your voice. It won't be long before we'll see each other… you can't miss me, I'll be the only woman there in a pale-gray penguin suit."
'And I'll be the only girl there in a white wedding dress… I hope! Unless you've made other arrangements you haven't told me about?'
They laughed at the joke, but then fell quiet. "I love you, Lauren… I love you with all my heart. Please know that," Catherine said in a quiet, insistent tone.
'I do… I do, Catherine. I love you too… I love you so much. Please hurry over so I won't have to fight alone. That three-day separation rule sucks!'
"It does, honey! It really does. I look like shit today 'cos I didn't get a wink of sleep last night…"
'Me, neither! Gawd, I thought that was just me! I couldn't sleep without you there…'
"Don't worry, we'll soon be together. Not long to go now," Catherine said and checked her wristwatch. "Hey… I love you. Never forget that."
'I love you too… ugh… aw, couldn't they have- dammit! Oh, it was nice talking to you, Mr. Buttman. My bedroom has just been invaded,' Lauren said, switching to a formal voice halfway through the sentence.
"I'll send you the bill, Miss Nichols. See you at church!"
Closing the connection, Catherine let out a long sigh and threw the warm telephone onto the couch. She had a raging storm of emotions inside her, and she needed to press a hand to her chest to stop it from taking her over completely.
Lauren's voice and the words she had said had gone a long way to soothe Catherine's upset soul, but it was the thought of soon meeting the woman she planned to spend the rest of her life with that made the last of her butterfly pets take off. Getting married was the right thing to do, she understood that now. Getting married to Lauren was the only thing to do.
Catherine weighed up Lupe's rampant negativity, Mark's astonishment, Frieda's words of wisdom, her Dad's support and Lauren's boundless love for her. It all boiled down to one, simple conclusion: Lauren was the woman she loved, and Lauren was the person she would marry, not her entire family.
The love they shared would be the safe hand on the wheel, not the old aunts and certainly not the traditions. Catherine nodded solemnly, having finally arrived at the right decision. Now that she had found it, she was amazed that she hadn't understood it far earlier. If nothing else, it would have spared her a sleepless night.
Getting up, she took her phone but left the cue sheet for the wedding vows behind - she knew she would think of something when the moment came. Her Borsalino fedora and a coat were next. She briefly patted a pocket to feel if her car keys were in there, which they were.
With a final glance at the apartment, she closed the front door behind her and turned the key. The next time she would unlock the door, she would have a blushing bride on her arm.
"I can't flippin' wait," she mumbled as she headed for the elevator with a bounce in her step.