Takes Two
by Elize

Part 6
posted  October 2003

 
 

 
 

29

Standing behind the counter in the restaurant, Kate mindlessly looked down on the glass in her hand, as she had for the last five minutes. When the door opened, she didn't hear anything until an excited voice called out.

“I have heard the most amazing rumor! Ever!”

The familiar voice bounced Kate back to reality. Frazzled, she looked up just as Kelly slammed the door behind her. Her face was shining with enthusiasm.

Kate certainly didn't feel like seeing anyone at the moment and she tried to sound nonplussed. But this was Kelly. Despite it all, Kate pretended not to be interested and drowsily she replied, "Oh yeah?" then looked down again.

Kelly strode across the floor and casually sat down on the barstool. "Yeah!" She leaned forward, resting her face in her hands.

She was excited. Kate could hear in both her voice and see in her face that she wanted confirmation. The thought of what kind of rumor Kelly had heard made Kate queasy, so she steadily focused on the glass in her hand in an attempt to regain herself.

Here it comes, she thought, holding her breath.

"I heard you went sailing yesterday!" Kelly could barely sit still.

A nervous chuckle burst from Kate and the air in her lungs flowed out like a balloon. She saw Kelly's eyebrows shoot up to her hairline and her mouth slightly drop. Kate closed her eyes and took a deep breath while dryly thinking, Sailing was not the only thing I was doing .

Since waking up, Kate had been restless, nervous and not able to focus at all. Sleep had come unexpectedly easy last night, but abstract dreams had haunted her through the night and when the alarm chimed; she felt like the worst hangover ever had hit her. Despite the brutal headache, her stomach in an uproar and a persistent cold sweat, she'd walked the short distance to work. She would have preferred to stay deep under her bedcovers, but knew she had to face the world - and probably Steph - with eyes wide open.

With her eyes still closed Kate counted: one, two, three then opened her eyes and shot away a smile. Sassily, she chimed, "Sailed. That is true." But the words didn't flow at all and the smile was strained, hurting her face.

Kelly squinted and suspiciously she eyed her lifelong friend. "You don't even sail during the summer, so what on earth got you out on the ocean this time of year?"

"Oh, it wasn't that big a deal," Kate frowned again trying to be relaxed. "I had promised Steph to come along when the summer traffic was gone and," she slightly shrugged her shoulders, "it turned out to be winter before there was an opportunity."

Casually, she put a mug with regular, black, unusually weak coffee in front of Kelly. The lunch guests would soon begin dropping in and Kate didn't really have the time or the patience for too much small talk.

Nursing her coffee, Kelly curiously waited for Kate to tell something from yesterday's adventure. When Kate said nothing, Kelly eventually asked, "So, how was it? Wasn't it cold?"

Cold? Kate thought, recalling the feeling of Steph's burning hands against her body. She looked down as a tingling shock colored her neck and replied in a short tone of voice, "No, it wasn't cold." Her tone was off-putting. Kate could hear it herself but in her distracted mind, she hoped Kelly wouldn't notice.

But Kelly did. Tilting her head first to the left, then to the right, Kelly peered at her friend. "You sound strange? Has something happened?"

Still looking down, irrationally moving around the knives and forks, Kate felt her stomach cramp and tears begin to burn behind her eyelids. She swallowed, took a deep breath and looked up.

"No," she lied. "I'm just tired." She tried to smile but failed.

Kelly paused, eyeing her friend with great concern. "You and I," Kelly said calmly and leaned forward, "have known each other way too long for you to fool me. Something has happened and it troubles you."

One, single tear escaped from the corner of Kate's eye and trickled down her cheek. Irritated she brushed it away, forcing her emotions back and pressed her fingers against her forehead in an attempt to get rid of the burning pain inside her head. Slowly, she shook her head, not knowing what to say. It was all just so much. So new, so unexpected, so unlike her, yet so intoxicating.

"It's too much," she whispered without looking her friend in the eyes. "Too much."

Seeing Kate like this, vulnerable and afraid, was so rare Kelly barely knew what to do. She bit back her own fears that something terrible had happened and begged in a soothing tone, "Tell me, sweetie. Please."

Tears kept coming and Kate pressed her fingers hard against her eyelids, not wanting to even think about why they were there. Hesitating, she looked up, finding Kelly's concerned expression.

I need to talk her. She will help this all make sense.

Putting her hands flat against the countertop, Kate closed her eyes and with a low, trembling voice said, "Steph and I -,” she faltered and a seeming eternity of time passed before she finally added, “had sex yesterday."

Often, when someone shares a secret, the truth has already been around although never put to words. Unconsciously, it makes sense and the surprise isn't that big of a surprise. When Kelly put the few words together into one sentence, she realized she already knew this. She knew this was coming, somehow she did, yet the words landed like a rocket by her feet. Not knowing what to say, Kelly just stared at Kate's teary face.

Kate had changed since Steph came to Port Baily; Kelly realized that. Not openly and obviously, but in small ways. It was a subtle shift from concerns about the town to concerns about one person. Now looking back on it all, it really was quite a dramatic change.

Collecting herself, Kelly spoke. "Wow!" It wasn't much but it was a start.

"Got you this time, didn't I?" Kate chuckled nervously before a loud sob broke through her words.

Kelly glided off her chair, walked around the counter and pulled Kate into a caring embrace.

All the tied up emotions broke lose at once and Kate cried loudly against Kelly's comforting shoulder.

"Yeah," Kelly whispered into Kate's ear. "This time you really got me."

For several long minutes, Kelly held Kate. She stroked her hand across Kate's trembling back, feeling wet tears fall against her shoulder. Kelly whispered small, barely audible words into Kate's ear; soothing her, comforting her, letting Kate know that she was her friend – no matter what.

It had been years since Kelly had seen Kate cry. She couldn't recall the exact instance, but it had been in connection to her divorce from Phil. When Kate had told her about the divorce, Kate had been constrained and not showed any emotions. She merely stated the facts and said it was nothing to talk about. Phil and Kate had been in agreement, and the agreement was what Kate relied on - to begin with. It took six months before the feelings suddenly came over her. Kelly had walked on the beach with her when Kate suddenly stopped and looked up in the sky, and glanced at the birds leaving for warmer latitudes. What tipped the breakdown, Kelly never really knew, but there, on the solitary beach, Kate's tears began to fall upon the soft sand.

Slowly, Kate relaxed and the sobs faded away. "I need to freshen up before the lunch-guests arrive," she whispered, taking a deep breath.

Stepping back, Kelly worriedly looked at her. "You sure it's such a good idea to stay?"

Kate ran her finger under her eyes while shaking her head. "No, I'm certain it's not a good idea at all but," she looked at Kelly and smirked, "I have to. I can't let Fabricio take care of everything today - again."

“It wasn't the best timing in the world to have this conversation.” Kelly pitifully eyed Kate before nudging her in the side. A smug expression sprinkled her face. "Don't think you can get away with this."

Sniveling, Kate chuckled. "Never," she replied and instantly turned sad again. "I don't know what to do."

Leaning back against the counter, her hands casually resting in her pockets, Kelly watched Kate. Steadily she asked, "Do you love her?"

The question was brutally frank and Kate once again wished she'd stayed in bed. If she closed her eyes hard enough, maybe the truth would diminish. But now reality stood before her like an old, grumpy schoolteacher, arguing with her to state the obvious – that she was lost.

"Yesterday morning I loved her," Kate mumbled, brushing the palms of her hands over her pants. "She was my friend and someone I connected with,” she paused for a beat then added, “In a mysterious way."

Tilting her head, Kelly asked, "And now, who is she now, if not your friend?"

 

Kate looked away; shutting out reality, her mind began to wander along troubled roads. A woman, kneeling by the road, looked at her.

"Stay," she begged. "Let me tell you how this happened."

Kate looked away, seeing another woman walking in front of her. Tall, and with long fast strides, she walked away from Kate.

"Wait!" Kate called and paced after. The woman slowed down. "Where are you going?" Kate asked curiously: a nervous tremble in her voice.

The woman turned around and an ice, blue gaze faced Kate. The woman spoke, "To the place where the sun always rises but never sets."

Kate's eyebrows furrowed as she looked at the woman, searching for clarity. "Where is that?" she whispered.

The woman smiled comforting. "It is at the same place as the birds always arrive but never leave."

Smiling back, Kate embarrassed said, "You're playing me."

The woman held out her hand, reaching for Kate's. "Let me show you."

Taking her hand, Kate still remained where she was. "Is it far away?" she asked hesitating.

The woman stepped closer and Kate felt her breath against her faces as she replied, "An eternity away, but only one small step to reach."

 

Returning from her thoughts, Kate shook her head. "I wish I knew," she responded faintly to answer Kelly's question. "I wish I knew."

Kelly slowly nodded and brushed her hand over Kate's arm. "Behind those tears, your eyes sparkle, my dear. I've missed those eyes." She smiled, feeling both happiness and fear for her friend. Happiness that Kate might have found love, but fear that it would fail.

Slowly, Kelly cracked into a grin. "And you have mascara on your cheek," she hinted, rubbing her finger through the wet, black streaks.

Chuckling at Kelly, Kate excused herself and walked towards the bathroom. With her hand on the doorknob, she stopped and looked at Kelly. "Are you okay with this?"

Kelly shook her head. "No," she replied in a serious tone, "but I will be. When you tell me all the details." Kelly pointed her finger at Kate. "All the details!"

Embarrassed, Kate giggled. "In your dreams," she clucked as she disappeared in to the bathroom.

 

30

Kate sat back in her office chair, her feet rested on the table. Her day had moved painfully slow, yet somehow it was now almost over. The thought about going home, taking a bath and then snuggling up in bed with a hot cup of tea was what had kept her together during the day. Steph never showed up and she was actually glad she hadn't. At the moment she didn't know how to act around her, and meeting her among other people would probably be terribly confusing. Kate didn't know but she feared so.

Fabricio's popped up in the door. "I'll leave now," he said and shot a smile at her. Something was bothering his boss, he could tell, and deliberately he'd left her alone as much as possible.

Looking at him, Kate nodded. "Yeah." She let her weary response float in the air before she blew it away with a tired sigh. Quickly casting a glance at her wristwatch, she rose from the chair and picked up her coat from a small armchair. "I guess I'll leave, too."

Holding open the door for her, Fabricio spoke, "It has been a good day. With guests, I mean."

 

After putting her coat on, Kate walked out of the office and stopped before him. "I'm sorry I've been so distant today," she said, asking for pardon. "I‘ve been distracted, slept badly last night and just wished for this day to end."

He nodded and patted her on the shoulder. "It's okay. Some day's are like that," he replied as he switched the main lights off. "Even yours."

The front door suddenly opened and Steph became visible in the pale light. Kate froze and stared at the tall woman; the young woman looked weary. Traces of a bad night's sleep and an even worse day were clearly painted on her face.

Sensing the vibrant silence echo between the usually cheerful women, Fabricio softly squeezed Kate's arm. "I'll see you tomorrow," he whispered and left. When passing Steph, he delivered a comforting smile, then hastily exited.

Steph listened to the door close before looking up and into Kate's teary eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't show up for lunch," she said with a low, restrained voice. Uncomfortable and uncertain, she briefly looked away finding the lighthouse out on the dark ocean to hold on to. Its light flashed – one long, two short then a pause. "I didn't know what to say," she whispered, turning back to Kate.

Taking a deep breath, Kate collected herself. "Why don't we sit down," she suggested, taking off her coat. She sat down at one of the small tables by the window.

Momentarily, Steph hesitated before joining her. She sat down at the opposite side of the table, placed her hands - clasped together - on front of her and nervously glanced at Kate.

"You look tired," Kate commented with a soft voice.

Steph tilted her head slightly. "I had trouble sleeping last night," she answered, faintly smiling at the woman in front of her.

Both looked away, not knowing what to say, not finding anything to begin with. The relaxed atmosphere usually surrounding them seemed to have flown out into the dark eternity. Steph wriggled in her chair, nervously twisting her hands.

Eventually Steph spoke. "I know," she said without looking at Kate, "that I promised to let you – ‘be' - but I don't think I can." She looked up from her hands and shiny eyes locked onto Kate's. "I have tried to sort out why I did what I did last night and I can't find any other reason than," she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, "that I love you."

For the second time in two days, Kate felt her heart stop beating. She couldn't breathe and desperately searched for a way to escape. The more she kept searching though, the more of Steph her soul found.

Seeing Kate's eyes flutter and her mouth open without anything being said, Steph shyly continued. "I should have figured that out before I," she hesitated for a moment, "did what I did, but I think it is a little late to be regretful."

Kate nodded faintly, agreeing with Steph, but at the same time knowing she wouldn't want to have their passionate encounter undone. Seeing her today, draped in the most miserable expression Kate had ever seen, was like living in the epilogue from yesterday; the extension of their action, the follow-up. Again Kate wanted to hold Steph, lean against her shoulder and feel Steph's heart beat against her hand.

"I would lie to you," Kate eventually whispered, "if I said anything else than I was surprised. But -,” she reached for Steph's hands, "I would lie even more if I said I didn't like what happened."

Steph was focusing on their entwined hands, but Kate noticed a faint smile play in the corner of Steph's mouth, and felt her grip ease. Kate hadn't eaten anything all day and had barely managed to drink a cup of coffee without getting sick. She realized her talk with Kelly earlier had eased the worst suppressed emotions though and she sent Kelly an appreciative thought. With her own condition in mind she was well aware of how Steph felt. The fact that she didn't have the luxury of a good friend, like Kelly, must make Steph feel even worse.

I am her friend, she thought, striking her fingers softly over the back of Steph's hand.

Kate continued. "I have never, ever, felt anything like I do for you," she said with a low, direct voice, searching for eye contact. "I'm quite shocked over the feelings I have." She looked down at their hands again. "Especially the fact that you are a woman. I have never felt like this for a woman before."

For the first time in a long while, Steph looked up. "Neither have I," she replied and tried a smile. It didn't come out well and she briefly looked away again before saying, "This is getting more and more difficult. I ended up staying here in Port Baily by accident and I wished for nothing more than the winter to be over. Now," she said, slowly shaking her head, "I don't know where to be."

It hadn't crossed Kate's mind that Steph might leave as soon as she could; not since they became friends and most definitely not since last night. Peeking at the possibility, Kate tried to imagine a day in her much loved restaurant with Steph gone. Without her and Jason's company, their friendship, their joy. The picture wasn't even black and white; it was colorless and without contrast; it was flat and frightening.

Can it ever be like before, she wondered? Though, even as she wondered the answer was ‘no'.

Kate rose, walked around the table and sat down on the chair next to Steph. She pivoted the chair so she sat facing Steph knee to knee.

"I want you right where you are," she whispered, squeezing Steph's. " I am confused right now but that doesn't mean I will just let you go.” Encouraged by her own audacity, she added, “I really do want you to stay here, in Port Baily. With me."

Tears suddenly blurred Steph's sight and she blinked them away. "I don't want to be anywhere else anymore either," she said strained and inhaled, forcing back a sob. "But, what does this mean? A fling? Something that will hurt more than anything?"

She felt her emotions taking over; her rational thinking and memories of her earlier encounters came forward. The confusion of when she became aware of her pregnancy, the pain of her fathers death, her unsolved differences with her mother. None of these times had she been able to handle her emotions constructively. She had run off from them and never looked back. Steph didn't want her three years on board Voyager to be wasted and she certainly didn't want Jason to see her like this.

He needs security, she thought. He needs a mother who can be there for him, prepares him for life. Not one that runs off as soon as the wind changes to her disadvantage.

Whatever happens, she knew Jason would have to come first, now. That was how she would have to approach her own emotions.

Steph looked at Kate, wanting to find all her answers in her eyes. Kate's face was tired, her eyes red but calm as she glanced at Steph.

"I can't promise you anything, Steph," Kate said softly, "It is too new, too big, but I can assure you that I would be dreadful without you." She gently brushed her lips over the back of Steph's hand, feeling her tremble.

"We hit it off from the very beginning and now -," Kate mused while reveling in how soft Steph's hand was. "Well, I think we match one another pretty well."

Then, Steph felt Kate's lips nibble across the tip of her fingers. The touch caused little butterflies to take off inside her stomach, leaving her weakened in front of the woman she loved. "Yeah," she said, looking up to face Kate. "I think we can find ways to pass the time." A hint of a budding confidence played in Steph's tone. Strengthened by that, she tenderly reached out and caressed Kate's cheek.

Unable to take her eyes off Steph, Kate asked, "Do you know how truly beautiful you are?"

Steph blushed and giggled. "No, I can't say I do."

"Well, now you do."

“Flatterer.”

Steph smiled and held onto Kate's gaze, finding comfort, safety and great attraction. As clear as tonight's stars in the sky, she found reasons for last night's action right there before her. She wished to reach out and explore the sensation again, but she held back.

"What's on your mind, young lady?" Kate felt curious.

Still smiling, Steph replied, "I just realized why I did what I did.” Kate's eyes widened. “I think I need to slow down a bit, though. Give us both some time.”

Kate's long, delicate fingers gently laced with Steph's more strong ones. Together they held one another safely moored, not letting any winds of insecurity rip them apart. Friendship was there no matter what.

Placing both her hands around Kate's, Steph gently spoke, "We're going to San Francisco tomorrow,” she paused for a beat, feeling Kate looking at her, “but when we get back I would like to start all over again."

Kate was surprised by both the announcement and how it affected her. Like a slap without movement displayed. She immediately saddened. "You're going to San Francisco ?”

Hearing Kate's voice fail, Steph gently said, “Yes -- unfortunately.”

“For how long?"

"A week. We'll be back a couple of day's before New Years Eve."

Concentrating on keeping the swell of loss from breaching her expression, Kate distracted herself by playing with Steph's fingers. "I already miss you," she mumbled, feeling stupidly helpless.

Independent and able to take care of herself, Kate had seen that as a virtue since the day she left parental care. Independent as in walking her own way and making her own choices, Kate couldn't recall any moment she hadn't had control over her life. Well, more or less but was control and independence the same? The belief in walking her way, no matter what, all of a sudden seemed untrue. She had been charging ahead towards her own goals alone. How will it be when she gets there and no one but herself and her independence is there to greet her? She wanted someone there to share her joy, share her life.

Kate sighed. "I can't wait till you get back."

They sat still for some countless moments before Steph said, "I should get going," She cast a glance at the dark sky outside. "Jason was asleep when I left and he will be worried if he wakes up."

Kate nodded, feeling sad. "Yes, you better do that."

Steph placed her leg between Kate's knees. With a gentle hand she brushed away a stray hair from Kate's face, and gently touched her soft lips.

Feeling the warmth of Steph, Kate closed her eyes. Soft lips soon tasted hers and Kate appreciative purred in sentiment.

"This is very nice," Steph whispered with her mouth still against Kate's.

"Mm," Kate responded and tenderly bit the other woman's lower lip.

With a smile on her face, Steph backed off. "You're not helping," she said, caressing Kate's thighs.

"Sorry," Kate frowned without meaning what she said.

They gazed at each other, letting the moment last for as long as possible before Kate eventually asked, "Will you call me?"

Nodding, Steph rose from her chair. "Every day," she whispered, looking down on Kate.

"Good." Kate smiled, standing with Steph's help. Putting her coat back on and checking the lights, Kate left the small tavern by the sea with Steph on her arm.

The night sky was crisp and the moon seemed to smile at the world beneath. "Can I drive you to the airport?" Kate asked as she embraced Steph before they walked separate ways.

Steph felt the sweet smell of Kate's perfume and increased the pressure. "If it's no trouble," she replied, resistant to the cold wind biting her exposed cheek. "Jason and I would be happy if you did."

Kate smiled. Softly, she brushed her lips over Steph's cheek while uttering, "No trouble at all."

 

Standing outside on the sidewalk, neither feeling winter's cold embrace, everything suddenly felt so easy; so right and familiar.

 

31

The taxi slowly entered the small street of San Francisco . It was late - almost 11 o' clock local time and Jason was lying on the taxi seat next to her sound asleep.

Steph glanced at the familiar houses they passed by. The large, architectural buildings were softly lurking on lush yards along the hilly street. It was the very same street she'd grown up on, and although the cars were different, the trees larger and the lights shone differently through the wide windows; everything was still the same. Steph now felt the same way she had the day she'd left her family home for the first time - nervous. Back then it had been leaving the safety of her parents; now it was standing in front of the one left, expecting her to judge her and the life she was living.

The taxi finally came to a halt. As soon as Jason and Steph got out of the car, lights lit up the surrounding garden and Ruth Harris stepped out onto the doorstep. The gray haired woman casually waved at her daughter and grandson.

"Welcome," she called with a smile as they walked up the narrow path to the house. "Long flight?"

Steph returned her mothers smile. "Too long," she replied weary and embraced her mother. The familiar scent of her mother's expensive perfume enveloped them and Steph appreciated that her mother's tall body felt as trim as it always had, showing no signs of getting old.

As they entered the house, Steph continued, "It feels like an eternity since we left."

Comforting, Ruth traced her hand across Steph's chin before turning to a very tired Jason.

"Poor Jason," she whispered, hunching in front of her grandson. "Your bed is already made so you can just get back to sleep. You think you can sleep?"

Falling into his grandmothers' arms, Jason mumbled, "Yeah, I can sleep anywhere."

Steph observed the sweet embrace. It touched her heart and proved to her what she always had known, that her mother was a loving grandmother. Perhaps she even was a loving mother although Steph as of yet hadn't managed to see that side of her mother, not even believed in it. She knew her mother loved her and now, somehow, Steph could see that her thoughts otherwise had been a destructive way for her to answer the question she'd never dared to ask - where was Ruth when she grew up? Steph knew where she'd been, but her selfish side didn't want to see the truth. Her mother's great compassion for mankind was outspoken, yet Steph, like the child she always had been with her, refused to see it. Steph couldn't recall having ever met the compassionate side of her mother though; she didn't know what to look for.

As Steph now watched her mother and son together she felt an inkling of safety.

"I'll take him up to bed before he falls asleep in your arms."

"Come down to the kitchen when you're done, dear," Ruth called as Steph walked up the large wooden stairs with Jason stumbling after her. "I'll make some tea and a sandwich for us."

Steph nodded in response wishing she could join Jason in bed instead of staying up. A slight hint of curiosity tickled her though. Her mother seemed unusually unguarded and Steph had a feeling something was going on. If she wanted to know, she would have to stay up.

 

While waiting at the baggage claim, Steph had made brief phone call to Kate. Hearing her voice on the other end of the line was both soothing and frustrating. Soothing because she loved Kate's voice, frustrating because she wasn't within reach. The last day discovery was - although huge - only one part of their relationship. The relationship had begun from nothing and accelerated with such intensity that Steph could do nothing but be surprised. She, who only had managed a few brief relationships with other people, got involved in someone else's life without hesitation. Today, she thanked greater sources for the events, leading her and Jason to stay in Port Baily.

 

Back in the kitchen, the table was set and Ruth looked at her daughter as she sat down. "You look fantastic, Stephanie." Ruth poured the hot, steaming tea into a green mug and gave it to Steph. Tapping her daughter on the shoulder, she motherly added, "You have even managed to gain some weight."

Steph gave her mother a wry smile in return. "And that's suppose to be a good thing?"

Ruth smiled and sat down on the other side of the table. "Well, you have always been so thin. The extra pounds will do you good."

The light kitchen with its rough, farm-imitative interior was warm, keeping the strong winds outside at a safe distance. Steph poked at a tomato slice sticking out from her sandwich, feeling both her body and soul fall to rest after a day of stress among thousands of people. The airports in both Boston and San Francisco had been jam packed with Christmas travelers, and Steph had dreamt about white islands in the Caribbean .

"So, how are you doing, Mother?" Steph asked thoughtfully, gazing at her mother. "You are certainly looking fit."

"Well, I'm in that age where you have to look out for every extra calories on your plate." Tilting her head, Ruth looked at her daughter with a soft smile across her face. "I feel good, Stephanie. I have my moments of sadness and loneliness, but I have learned that every morning and every moment is worth living for."

Steph listened to her and let the words settle in her mind. ‘ Every morning worth living for', she reckoned, pondering if that was the truth. Her own stray lifestyle had - in retrospect - not been what she intended. While in the middle of it she hadn't seen how she drifted around in a void of irresponsibility, where she hadn't valued every morning or any moment as something to live for.

What was my intention , she argued, feeling unfulfilled about the questions inside her? These were questions she had avoided and, truthfully, never even thought about asking. Now the answers surfaced faster and faster, revealing characteristics of herself that Steph didn't like to see – avoidance, fear.

Casually, she eyed her mother's slightly wrinkled face; the gray hair was perfectly tied together in a bun, exposing a strong impression.

"Was I afraid of the dark when I was a child?" Steph suddenly asked, seeking for a way to sort out who she was.

Ruth took a sip of her tea as she thought back to Stephanie as a young child. She recalled a quiet and observing girl, searching and persistent to find whatever she was looking for. She rarely played like other children did - with her heart – but stayed steady rooted to the ground. Could someone with those features be afraid of anything?

Of course , Ruth thought, viewing her daughter's beautiful face. Well-known feelings of distance surfaced inside her and she slowly looked away. A persistent feeling of parental inadequacy returned. They normally hid in the dark corner of her soul, appearing only when she was least prepared for them but very easy for her to ignore.

"No," Ruth replied slowly. "You weren't afraid of the dark, but you were afraid of being alone."

Steph frowned and took a bite of her sandwich. "I was always alone," she stated, eyeing her mother's perfect face and upright posture. "I liked being alone."

"Did you have an option?" Ruth challenged, reaching for Steph's emotions. "None of us were at home to take care of you like we should have been."

Well, isn't this quickly delving into honesty? Steph felt a child's anger rise within her. With some restraint, she bit back. "Dad was home," she replied without looking her mother.

Faintly shaking her head, Ruth argued, "No, he wasn't. Not as much as he could have been."

"You were certainly not around." Steph stabbed, feeling 10 years old again.

"No, I wasn't." Ruth quietly replied. Her hands around the hot mug, she forced back the beginning of tears. "And that regret, but it wasn't something I was aware of then. I'm not saying that I have made the wrong choices in my life, but believe me when I say that I am sorry you were hurt because of those choices."

With a loud sigh Steph let her head fall back and she looked up at the white ceiling. She remembered the day when she had dropped a large bottle of ketchup, and how all of it had exploded over the entire kitchen - even the ceiling got its share. Her father hadn't been amused and a painter had to come over the day after to repaint the kitchen. Not one single spot was found up there now, no signs of what had happening. She straightened herself in the chair.

"I don't want to argue with you, Mother," she said in a hushed tone. "We both know about the past and how it was."

Steph looked at her mother, hoping they would be able to find peace between each other. She was tired of the constant disagreements, bad consciences, and longed to see what was on the following page of her life. Ruth didn't say anything but Steph could tell she was listening. She continued.

"I'm starting to feel pleased with my life. I have a job, I live in a town I like, and I have new friends and I -." She was about to say she had found love but held back. For the moment, she wasn't sure she when she'd tell her mother about Kate but most certainly not tonight. No, she saw no reason to reveal all she had done and discovered. She wasn't certain she was ready for it herself. Looking down briefly to regain herself, Steph reached out and placed her hand over her mother's. It had been a long time.

"It is getting late and I'm rather tired." Steph offered her mother a soft smile. "Let's talk more tomorrow?"

Ruth nodded and squeezed her daughter soft hand. "Breakfast at seven?" she asked.

Steph chuckled as she stood up. "You're still up with the sun?"

"Some things will never change, Stephanie."

Steph smiled at this believing how true this statement was for mother, but how untrue it had become for her own life.

 

32

Fluffy snowflakes fell outside the window, draping the ground in white. Hypnotized by billions after billions of water crystals, Kate leaned against the large window in the restaurant, trying to watch one flake falling towards the ground. The restaurant was closed for the night and Kate stayed, as she had many other nights, to let her thoughts come to rest.

It had been a fairly good day considering the number of guests, but in regards to Kate's hospitality - not very good. Hoofing between the kitchen, the office and the eating area she became nothing but a disturbing element in, the otherwise, calm atmosphere. Fabricio had tossed her out of her own kitchen after Kate tasted the casserole one time too many.

"Find yourself something useful to do," he barked. Kate scowled and hid in her office for approximately ten minutes before apologetically returning to the kitchen for a sandwich.

Jake Larry and John Forsythe had stopped by for lunch. They had both been in a playful mood and rambled to Kate about things she now couldn't remember. John asked something about New Years Eve, but now - as she observed Port Baily being dressed in white - she had no idea what he had said. The only thing she recalled was that she had said 'yes'.

"I hope he didn't ask if he could invite more guests," she mumbled to herself.

Kate continued to feel like she hadn't slept in months. Steph had been away for two days and Kate hadn't been able to enjoy time since. Waking up early - way before the alarm went off - after a night's tossing around in bed was frustrating. The sheets and blanket were twirled to a knot, revealing the unsettling dreams that played in her mind during the nights. She couldn't recall the dreams, something that amplified the frustration.

Dreaming was a state of mind Kate normally found fascinating, and she allowed herself to be led into mysterious lands without fear. Aware that her presence was only temporary, she felt safe making the journey though it was sometimes frightening and revealing. They were peek shows into her own self and numerous times she'd awoken with a gasp, disturbed at what she had found.

The last couple of nights had left her empty handed. Not recalling any dreams although she knew she had had them was wearisome, disturbing. She felt as if there was something in there she wasn't allowed to see. Something she couldn't handle knowing.

Kate felt her pulse hammer in her head and she closed her eyes tightly. She tried to seek comfort in remembering the phone call she'd gotten from Steph earlier, but the memory of her voice only reminded Kate of how lonely she felt.

I'm pathetic, she thought and opened her eyes again.

Snow still fell with unchanging intensity and she gave up her resting position against the window. Not really feeling as calm as she'd wished, she decided to go home for the night, hoping to find it more restful.

 

33

In San Francisco , waves rolled in with great force against the sandy shores. Having traveled all the way across the Pacific Ocean , the waves were now filled with experience - different waters, temperatures, animals and peoples. Captured on the sandy shores, their journey now came to an end.

Steph casually walked next to her mother, watching Jason chase a flock of sandpipers over the wet border between land and sea. It had rained for two days, leaving both Jason and Steph stomping around the house not knowing what to do. They spent one day Christmas shopping and the chaotic crowd in the shopping district had torn at Steph's nerves.

 

Today, the sun tried hard to break through the thick clouds in the sky. Occasionally, it succeeded and the faint stream of light caressed their faces as they strolled along the beach.

Glancing at the wild ocean to their right, Ruth stated, "You seem distant, Stephanie."

Steph kept an eye on Jason running ahead while her mother's statement crept into her mind. She buried her hands deep into her jacket pockets, trying to sort out how she felt.

Distant? Maybe.

Her thoughts were irrational and weren't taking her anywhere. On one hand, she wasn't sure what to think. On the other hand, there was so much going on that she didn't know where to begin. So much had happened in the last few months. Scanning the ocean, she searched for an answer. Her father came to mind. His ashes had been spread over his beloved, blue part of God's creation. Poseidon might be more accurate, she thought as yet another wave crashed at the shoreline. Certain that her father was happy out there among the waves she smiled.

What advise would he give me, s he pondered as she felt her life bounce around in the waves.

"What is the question, Steph?" she heard her father ask the same time as a seagull softly, landed among the white caps.

"I don't know," she whispered in response, burying her chin inside the jackets high collar.

Ruth looked at her daughter. "What did you say?"

Steph startled from her thoughts. "Oh, I must have been thinking out loud." She smiled and snaked her arm around her mother's. "I have a lot on my mind at the moment and," she playfully rolled her eyes, "I'm trying to put the pieces together."

"Is it about going back to science?" Ruth patted Steph's hand while looking at her.

"That is one thing," Steph replied slowly. "There are some other things going on in my life right now and they occupy my thoughts." ‘Things' sounded like an understatement but they were still things – a job, settling down, Kate. Big things.

Jason, being several yards ahead of them, stopped and looked at them. Steph waved her hand, hoping he would come back. Grinning, Jason only returned the gesture. As Steph and Ruth closed in on him he turned around and ran off again. Steph smiled at his youthful energy and it struck her that she had to talk to Jason about Kate and the new meaning of their relationship - if there was a new meaning.

Yes, there was a new meaning, Steph knew that, but where was it taking them? She didn't know yet, and she felt certain neither did Kate.

I still need to talk to him, she stated silently. Before he finds out by accident.

Out of the corner of her eye, Ruth noticed her daughter's detached expression. Ruth squeezed Steph's hand. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Steph inhaled deeply, held her breath for a beat then slowly exhaled. "It's just happening so fast." She sighed. "Settling down, living a so-called normal life."

Her mother smiled and pulled her closer. "You know, you have pretty strong and independent genes running through your blood. Persistence and going our own way is not a new discovery in our family." She let go of Steph's arm and closed her thick, blue wool coat tighter around her.

"Both me - as you are well aware of - and your father chose to follow our hearts. Although we lived together and loved one another deeply, we were still strong as individuals."

Ruth paused for a moment and Steph curiously wondered where her mother was heading. She got a feeling that Ruth was up to something.

Embracing the moment, Ruth quickly brushed away a stray hair from Steph's face and said, "I have used the last couple of years to examine my previous actions, and I'm not always happy with what I have found."

Steph's eyebrows shot up and she stopped walking. "Really?" she questioned, curiously wondering what her mother was about to admit.

Ruth smiled sadly. "No, I'm not," she admitted. "It's very good to be strong and independent, but not to the extent where you shut other people out." She saw her grandson running towards them and felt a sting of guilt for not having been there for Steph when he was born. Steph, getting restless, began to walk on. Ruth reached out and put her hand on Steph's arm.

"Not to the extent of shutting people out as I have in the past," she continued with a soft tone. “I don't want to walk in silence anymore, Stephanie. I want to be a part of your life."

Examining her mother, Steph wondered what she actually meant by that. Her mind ran like a bloodhound on a hunt as she tried to find an answer without asking. Jason called for her, interrupting her thoughts and she looked away.

Without warning, Ruth said. "I'm selling the house."

Steph froze and the world around her seemed to do the same. The roaring sound of waves disappeared, Jason was suddenly not moving forward and she ceased to feel the biting wind. It was as though she was standing in a sound proof room and the noise of the world she once had known was shut out.

"You're selling the house?" she whispered without looking at her mother.

After a brief glance at Jason, who was closer to them now, Ruth turned to Steph and answered, "Yes."

Still watching her son's approach, she asked, "Why?"

"It's getting too big for me," she explained, only revealing parts of her truth.

Steph slowly turned to face her mother. "You're selling Dad's house?" she repeated, recalling her father telling her, with passion in his voice, how he with his own hands, had renovated the building in the Presidio Heights . The sky-blue wooden house was filled with joy and pain, sweat and tears. Everything in it reminded Steph of him.

Ruth carefully reached out for her hand. "Stephanie, life is in motion and I am moving with it" She spoke gently and slowly. "This is something I have come to terms with during these years since your father died. "

Not able to think clearly, Steph turned away to the ocean again. The calmness she felt only moments ago was gone. She observed the remains of her childhood float away in the horizon, knowing it would never come back.

"So," she finally breathed. "Where are you going to stay? An apartment in the Hills?"

Smiling, Ruth looked at Jason who now clung onto Steph's arm. "I'm thinking of moving closer to you." Jason grinned at her and Ruth reached out, ruffling his hat.

It took a while for Ruth's statement to register. "What?" Steph challenged, hoping it was the noise from the ocean, the wind or shock that made her question what she was hearing.

"You heard me," Ruth replied smugly. "But I'm not moving in with you - don't worry. I just thought it would be nice to live in the same part of the country as you and Jason for a while."

Putting her arm around Jason, Steph immediately began to walk back to the car leaving her mother behind. But feeling her mother's observing eyes against her back, she stopped and turned around. "You coming?" she asked with more harshness in her voice than intended. Ruth slowly walked towards them while Steph impatiently waited for her.

Though this was not the reaction she had expected, Ruth admitted to herself that she had perhaps rushed into it. She knew her daughter would need time to digest this.

Ruth recalled they day, more than three years ago, when she looked out over the Golden Gate watching Voyager plow against the strong current. She had had the same thought. Stephanie will need time to get over this .

She and Steph had gone trough the will only days before their departure and Ruth, in her own grief, had tried to remain strong. She had not been happy when Steph set the sails and left for unknown waters but somehow Ruth knew there was nothing she could do, but that time would bring her daughter back. Besides, she knew it wouldn't have mattered how much she had begged: Steph would have still left.

Now, walking next to Steph, she wondered sadly how much more time would need to pass. She wondered if there could ever be enough time.

"Once again, you are not making my life any easier," Steph said as Ruth walked next to them. "I have a tornado of things happening at the moment and this is not helping."

The rough tone in Steph's voice, slapped Ruth across the face, but she let it go. She had no reason to believe that Steph would welcome her with open arms, but she would fight to make her understand the importance of their future. Perhaps she was being selfish – again – but this time she at least thought about her daughter, and about the love she had for her.

"I don't want to argue with you about this," Ruth said persistently, "Please, try to look at it from my perspective.”

Ruth forcibly stopped her daughter and looked into her eyes. In the reflection she could see herself: the lone, independent woman who had been struggling hard to fulfill what she'd believed in. But now, time had torn the picture, it was fading and every memory of her was being blurred out.

She wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill. “I understand that you think it is quite selfish of me to burst into your life when it suddenly suits me, but believe me," she paused for an extra breath, "when I say that I'm so very sorry for the things I've caused you to feel in your life.”

Feeling Steph wanted to leave, Ruth reached out one last time. “I'm not getting any younger and I don't want to live the rest of my life not trying to sort things out between us."

Steph suddenly shivered. She wished they were home and she dreamt of a hot bath, washing away all the changes; it was becoming too much. Every word her mother had spoken was gently resting in her mind but at the moment she felt there were no room to deal with them.

Cuddling against Steph's side, Jason sensed something was troubling his mother and he pondered what he could do to help. "Have you talked to Aunt Kate, today?" he gently asked.

Just hearing Kate's name caused Steph to ease. She smiled wearily at Jason. "No, but I certainly need to."

"Can I talk to her, too?" The young boy returned her smile with light-hearted spirit.

Steph nodded and squeezed his shoulder. "Of course you can."

Ruth walked quietly next to them, feeling outside a conversation not meant for her. The name, Kate, had been mentioned on several occasions but her daughter hadn't said who she was. A friend, Ruth assumed, glad to hear Stephanie was able to make some connections. Her solitariness had always been a bit of a concern for Ruth, but she recognized it from her father and he had been quite satisfied with his life. However, Ruth wished Steph would say more about how she felt, but at the same time Ruth knew she would have to be patient.

I just want her to be happy, Ruth thought as they reached the car.

 

34

It was Christmas Day and the snow clad landscape sparkled in the sun. Snow had fallen constantly for more than three days; the houses were covered in snow, the trees bowing towards the ground by the weight on their branches.

Through the postcard landscape, Kate had driven the three-hour drive to her parent's home north of Boston . She hadn't seen her parents for more than two months - something unusual - and had therefore felt quite enthusiastic about going there. Christmas Day had always been something extra in the Jordan family. A big gathering with all members of the family invited, using this day of the year to brief one another of what was going on in each others lives and keeping them together. The only ones missing were Steph and Jason, but that was something Kate just had to accept this year. Hopefully for the last time though.

Kate briefly spoke to Steph on the phone before she'd left, and although it was wonderful to hear her voice it was also painful as she became more and more aware of how much the young woman and her son meant to her. The thought of the three of them living together had begun to depict itself before her eyes. During her lonely days since they'd left, images of them as a family had played in her mind. Although it was with a smile on her face, her thoughts also scared her. She was not used to these feelings. Longing and craving someone was far from being constructive, Kate knew that, but right now she stood close to the edge of that tempting hole.

 

After Christmas dinner, Kate stood casually leaning against the wall in her parent's living room, looking with a thoughtful expression at her sister's children as they argued who had gotten the best CD for a present. She was certain that she wouldn't like any of the records, which briefly reminded her that she was getting old. However, she felt younger than ever and a smile grazed across her face from that thought.

"You're awfully quiet today, dear sister." Rachel had sneaked up on her, noticing Kate's pondering expression.

Kate chuckled and took a small sip of her gin and tonic. "Oh, I'm listening to your sweet children," she replied casually. "They seem to be in disagreement."

Rachel threw a quick glance at their direction. "Aren't siblings always in an disagreement?"

Kate nodded slowly and saw Josh pinch Jennifer in her stomach. "I guess so," she mused and began to smile. "But you and I are an exception."

"Of course."

Rachel let silence linger between them for a while and amused herself watching Robert interfere in or with the children's more and more heated conflict. She felt the warmth of compassion spread through her body as she once again realized how much she loved her husband.

I'm a lucky woman , she thought, winking her eye as his eyes met hers.

Grateful for what she had, Rachel turned to Kate. "So, how are things with Steph?" Her tone was moderately interested although curiosity was lurking in the voice.

Kate jerked from hearing the name and an unexpected flush spread over her face. "Excuse me?" Mentally, she cursed her hormonal reaction.

Rachel smirked, having a feeling that she'd just trapped her sister. "Well, my dear sister, you do look lovely in that deep, red color now expanding from your neck up to your cheek." She couldn't avoid a satisfied giggle from erupting.

She had waited for this moment since Kate and Steph had visited them at Thanksgiving. Her sister's acting around the young woman was quite fascinating and Rachel could sense some kind of emotional journey would take place. She had planned to tease her a bit during Christmas to find out more of what Kate felt, but that strategy was rapidly thrown over board. Now, with Kate avoiding both her eyes her remark, she changed her tactics.

"Come on," she said and dragged Kate by her arm out from the living room and into the kitchen.

Kate frowned and tried to struggle against her. "What is it now?"

Rachel poured two steady whiskeys and placed them on the kitchen table. "How are things with Steph," she repeated and sat down.

Kate sighed aloud and scuffled down on the chair across from Rachel. "It's okay," she replied casually and took a big mouth of whiskey. She made a bitter grimace as the liquor streamed down her throat. "This one is not good," she said, trying to change the subject.

Her sister smiled, well aware of what Kate was trying to do. She looked steady at Kate, pondering about her next move.

No sense being gentle with this one , she concluded.

"Ok, if you're going to make this difficult, I will speak for you," she stated and saw Kate wriggle in her seat. "Robert and I think you have,” she hesitated for a beat then slowly added, “a thing for the young, blond woman."

Kate swallowed hard then swept the rest of the whiskey. Strangely, she didn't feel as cornered as she thought she would. Instead of searching for a way out of this situation an embarrassed, but happy smile broke through on her face.

Rachel's eyes widened, a smile broke across her face and a high pitch cry came out from her throat. "My! God! Kate! Now you have to tell me everything or I will torture you for the rest of your life."

Shaking her head slowly but still smiling, Kate looked down. "It's nothing," she tried but immediately regretted her words and looked up to face her sister. "It's everything," she whispered and swallowed a big, nervous lump in her throat.

Without knowing what to say Rachel just bit her lower lip and hoped Kate would continue. When she didn't, she curiously asked, "Everything means-. What? Love?"

Taking a deep breath, Kate held on to her empty glass, wishing she'd had more of the tart, brown liquor. Then she answered, "Yes it does."

Rachel reached for Kate's hands. "This is so great Kate. This is just," she stammered, trying to find another word but she could only find, "great.”

A pause fell and Rachel eyed her sister who blushing tried to act casual. Her auburn hair fell softly around her face, shining with the silly expression on her face. Kate looked fresh like a flower waking up in spring.

“So, have you kissed her yet?" Rachel asked, not able to hide her curiosity.

Kate chuckled at her sister's bluntness but not able to look her in the eyes, she chose a distant spot on the wall behind Rachel to lay her eyes on. Yet again she recalled the feeling of Steph's lips against hers and her slender hands eating her body. She felt her heart begin to beat faster and with a long exhale she pushed the memories aside.

"Yes, we have kissed." Kate's expression broadcast that there was more.

"And?"

Not able to avoid happiness playing with her, Kate gave her sister a satisfied smirk. "And other things."

Although Rachel was a psychologist and had heard the most surprising of stories in her career; this was almost too much for her. Rachel leaned forward, her red hair falling against the table and she looked like she was about to find out something terribly secretive.

"You have slept with her?" she asked, holding her breath, not able to believe what was unfolding before her.

Not knowing where to put her hands, Kate began to roll the corner of the tablecloth. Taunting she said, “I wouldn't say sleep ever happened.”

An unbridled, cheering scream burst from Rachel and she fell backwards, clapping her hands fervently. Kate blushed even more and worriedly looked around although Rachel detected a hint of pride in her nervousness. Rachel was overwhelmingly happy. She had for a long time wished that someone would be able to unlock the greatness of Kate's heart and if that someone was a woman - than so be it.

"So, how do you feel?" Rachel asked, trying to keep her voice down.

Still fiddling with the tablecloth, Kate searched for the right words. "Scared, happy, lost," she mused sincerely before playfully adding, "and constantly aroused." Kate giggled like a 14-year-old schoolgirl and hid her face in her hands.

“Argh!” she cursed still hiding. “I should have prepared myself to face you.”

“Yes, you should have,” Rachel replied and removed Kate's hands from her face. Poking her finger on the tip of her nose, Rachel then wondered, "And Steph? What has she said?"

"She says she loves me."

"This sounds serious," Rachel mused.

Not knowing how to respond, Kate nodded slowly and fell serious. "Yes, it does."

They both looked at one another, Rachel smiling and Kate blushing, when their father's voice chimed from the other room. “Girls! Come back here!”

Kate took a deep breath and slowly rose. “I guess this is only the beginning of what will come,” she said.

“Well, let's take it easy with the old folks out there, although I know they wouldn't want anything else other than for you to be happy.”

“Yes.” Kate reached for Rachel's hand and pulled her up from the chair. “I think I'll need a lot of whiskey to face them.”

Chuckling, they left the kitchen and entered into the commotion of the others.

 

35

Standing by the window, Steph watched Jason play outside, easily catching the softball right into his new glove. Since he opened his Christmas gift and he found a glove inside he had anxiously wanted to try it, but neither Steph nor Ruth were particularly interested in going out in the harsh weather. After having failed to persuade them, he had sulked his way out the door. After only a few minutes the neighbor's children joined him and Jason was happy again.

"Care for some tea?"

Steph turned around as her mother's voice tuned into her mind.

"Yes, thank you," she replied and accepted a green mug with steaming tea. "Vanilla?" Steph asked, sensing the sweet fragrance steam against her face.

Ruth nodded and smiled. "Yes. I remembered you like it." She held her daughter's glance for a few seconds, trying to decide what kind of mood she was in. She couldn't read anything from her face and slowly she turned away. Her eyes fell on the blond boy in the garden and she smiled as he threw himself after a ball.

"He is a wonderful child," Ruth mused and couldn't stop looking at his happy face. "You have done a fantastic job raising him, Stephanie. You should be proud of yourself."

The intense statement took Steph by surprise and with raised eyebrows she turned to face her mother.

Ruth chuckled at the stunned expression and she softly patted Steph's upper arm. "Come and sit with me on the sofa," she said and slowly walked off towards the crème, colored couch sitting in the middle of the room.

Steph smiled as she cast a last glance at her son and then joined her mother. She casually sank down in the opposite corner and pulled her feet under her.

"I want to talk to you about moving from this house," Ruth began carefully, looking down in her mug of tea. "I'm aware of your attachment to the house but I can't take care of it alone. It's time for me to move on, Stephanie."

Steph felt like a brat, not wanting to understand, not wanting to see her mother's needs. She sighed again and began to feel irritated at her own bad attitude.

"I know you have to, Mother," she said with a low voice, avoiding looking at her. "It's wrong of me to judge you or demand the impossible. Of course you should move if you feel the house is becoming a burden for you."

Ruth smiled at the clinical reply yet felt uncertain of Steph's real meaning with her words. She felt this was going much easier than expected. "Is there," she wondered, "any particular reason why you don't want me to live on the east-coast?"

Kate, Steph thought, becoming madly irritated over herself and how she didn't dare to speak about Kate. Instead she casually shrugged her shoulders. "No, of course not," she replied, flickering around the room. "You can live where ever you want."

"But I want to live closer to you and Jason." Ruth somehow felt her daughter was not as keen on having her nearby. Gently she tried, "I would like to see you more than once a year."

A huge knot of nerves was building up inside Steph, making her sick and although she tried to ignore it she became more and more wrapped up in it. Steph understood that her mother wanted to be in closer contact to her and was well aware that her arrogant manner was hurting them both. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face Ruth.

"I'm in love."

Ruth was taken aback by the sudden declaration but as it sunk in, she burst into a smile. "That is fantastic, Stephanie!" Ruth gleamed at her daughter from her side of the sofa. "How wonderful!"

"With a woman," Steph added quickly, maintaining her eyes on her mother.

She saw the older face pale in front of her and the previous joy ran off her. For some reason she wasn't surprised about her mother's sudden drop in enthusiasm, but she hoped it wouldn't be permanent. Gay couples had been around the family for as long as Steph could remember. It was difficult not to know someone in a city like San Francisco and Steph had always heard her parents be supportive. Now was the time for her mother to show if she'd really meant what she'd always said.

Silence fell over the room yet Ruth heard her heart beat alarmingly fast and loud. She took a quick swallow of the tea while eyeing Steph's determined expression.

"Why?" Ruth asked restrained, aware of the stupidity of the question but it was the only thing she felt she wanted to know.

Steph's eyebrows furrowed by the question but she let go of giving a disarming answer. "I haven't asked myself that," she replied with honesty. "I have just accepted the fact that love is not impossible for me and I am fortunate to have found it."

"Is it my fault?" Ruth asked, her voice faint and crackling. Again she knew the question was wrong but she couldn't help but think her daughter suddenly turning gay was a reaction to her lack of support. She thought if she'd been there for her perhaps Stephanie would have found happiness a little easier. Being gay, she knew, was not easy; not even in a town like San Francisco . She had too many gay friends to know this; she had seen discrimination, harassment and death.

For Steph, the question was nothing but offensive. "No," Steph burst. "Why would it be anyone's fault? I'm happy and - please - accept that or -,” she held on to her comment for a beat, tasting the meaning of it. Finally she whispered, “Or you and I will be further apart than ever."

Ruth looked down and slowly shook her head, feeling that she had lost all control. She doesn't have room for me, she thought not able to think clearly. She never has.

From the moment Steph was born they had been of a different opinion and Ruth always ended up feeling hurt or run over. Steph's early attachment to her father had first amused her because it seemed so stereotypical - being her father's daughter, always looking up to him and do the same things he did. Eventually Ruth began to see a pattern; that Steph framed herself from Ruth and took no interest in her doings. They came to have nothing in common. At least that was how Ruth saw their relationship.

"So," she breathed, glancing at Steph. "Who is she?"

"Her name is Kate Jordan. I have told you about her."

Ruth frowned and let out a sarcastic sigh. "Well, you surely haven't told me all about her. Not that you -" She halted and bit back what just passed through her mind.

Steph got the message though and felt fury build up inside.

"What do you mean, Mother?" she hissed. "Sleep with her? Love her? Is that what you're saying?" Steph felt wounded and unable to control her emotions, but was aware that it would only make things worse. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, took a deep breath and looked at her mother again.

"I'm sorry," she said calmly. "This is so new to me but I am truly happy, Mother. Kate is the main reason I have managed to take the step back to people and have the courage to go back to science." She paused, realizing that it was actually true.

Without Kate's support she was certain that she would have taken Jason to new hideouts the coming spring. Since she met Kate and their conversation began that option had floated further and further away. As though the boat set sail without her noticing it. Steph sent a thought of praise to the woman she loved.

The woman on the opposite side of the sofa, however, did not look happy. Steph couldn't tell what went on in her mother's mind. Was she angry? Shocked? Jealous? Afraid? She perceived that her mother would not be able to handle the news today - or tomorrow.

"If you're moving to our part of the country I wanted you to know," Steph explained, not wanting to upset her mother anymore.

Ruth slowly rose from the sofa and scanned the room with an empty look. "I have to get over to the hospital for a while," she stated calmly. "There are things to tend to."

Steph felt a lump begin to build in her throat and tears of disappointment filled her eyes as they had many times before. "Please Mother, don't do this," she whispered.

"I'll see you later," Ruth said not listening to her daughter's plea.

The older woman turned around and slowly walked away. Steph looked after her, feeling one single tear fall down her cheek. It's time to go home , she though sadly and sucked the cry in her throat back to where it belonged, deep down inside her.

*****

 
 
Continue to Part 7
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