posted November 2003
The sun shone in such abundance Steph had to shade her eyes with the back of her hand to see the mooring buoy. Behind the reef was a beautiful lagoon with white sandy beaches hugging the small island.
"This is paradise," she said as she jumped ashore and the warm sand pressed between her toes. A row of small, wooden houses took cover under the palm trees above the beach; squinting her eyes Steph glanced at the houses. A group of men sat around a table and a woman stood while scanning the ocean. The woman wore a white dress and her auburn hair sparkled in the sun.
"This is truly paradise," Steph repeated and held onto the vision before turning to the blue sailboat. "Jason!" she called.
No response. "Jason!" Still no response; Steph felt a twinge of worry race through her.
"Where is he," she said. "And why is it so hot?"
She stroked her hand across her forehead, feeling a drizzle of sweat trickle down her cheek. "Why is it so hot? And what is that noise?"
The monotonous drone from the car horn ripped her away from paradise, and disoriented she lifted her head from the steering wheel.
“God! My head!” she groaned while carefully opening her eyes.
The blood spattered window and an animal's faded eyes pierced her. Crying, Steph jerked back, her head fell against the headrest. The sudden thud sent an explosion through her head and spread pain out through her body. Instinctively she swung the door open. Bound by the safety belt, she leaned over and her stomach turned inside out.
Heavy convulsions caused even more pain. Closing her eyes, Steph tried to regain herself. Slowly the worst pain eased and she managed to relax. Take it easy, Steph, she thought breathing heavily. It's only an animal. Except for a little headache, you're okay.
Taking a deep breath, she carefully unbuckled her belt and stumbled out from the car. Gently, she steadied herself against the car while walking around it. One of the headlights was broken and the hood was scratched and severely dented.
"Kate will not be happy," she said aloud. "Last time she'll let me borrow the car."
It was a deer; Steph felt a tear slowly begin to roll down her cheek as she noted its legs were broken - one was even missing - and the pale fur was blackening from blood. Disgusted she pulled it off the hood and down in the ditch. It was so small it almost disappeared, and she couldn't help but wonder how such a fragile being could cause so much damage.
"I'm sorry," she whispered and turned around. After a vague attempt to wipe off the cracked windshield, Steph continued home.
"Kate will not be pleased," she repeated beginning to chuckle.
Outside, the streetlights shone brightly against the cold night. Kate sat back in her chair her gaze matched by Kelly's. Jason could be heard from the kitchen laughing with Fabricio. She felt like she just had bribed the innocent boy with food and sweets, and although he was happy again, Kate still felt miserable. It struck her she wasn't really prepared for the responsibilities she had taken on. That falling in love wasn't only pleasures between her and Steph; it was about loving as a family.
Seeing her friend's regretful expression, Kelly interrupted to cheer her up. "Maybe you're getting old," Kelly said smugly.
Kate frowned. "I have never felt younger," she replied, straightening up.
Leaning forward, Kelly gently tapped her fingers on the table and whispered. "It's just because you've had more sex than ever, my dear. Makes your stamina increase."
“Kelly!” A deep blush colored Kate's face. "You are incorrigible," she whispered.
"And I'm proud of it. Which reminds me," Kelly prompted, "you still haven't told me any juicy details."
Laughing out loud and blushing even more, Kate shook her head. Only the thought of telling Kelly about how it was to make love to Steph made her heart beat way over its capacity. She imagined Steph's soft body lying under her own and immediately riddles of desire shot through her. Grinning, she looked away from Kelly.
"Oh!" The reaction didn't pass Kelly unnoticed. "Come on, Kate. Some little hint from the other side," she begged with puppy eyes. "Please."
Kate looked down on her hands, feeling the blood pulsating in them. Trying to make it stop she pressed the palms of her hands against the white tablecloth. A peculiar smile began to spread from the corners of her mouth and sighing, she looked up at Kelly.
"She's so soft," she whispered feeling the blush spread down her back. "It's like her body is made for me."
The grin bursting across Kelly's face made Kate feel as if she stood bare naked in front of her, her emotions more exposed than they had ever been. Her amorous past was not on the wild side, but she had been married and had had her share of great sex. But for some reason history really seemed to be history now. Experiencing the exploration of sexuality once again was a gift.
"That color on your cheeks is very appealing," Kelly said amused and noticed a car pulling up in front of the restaurant. It resembled Kate's Explorer and Kelly saw Steph's shadowed form step out. “I think the object for your friskiness is approaching.” She winked. “I'm looking forward to hearing more about your adventures."
Giggling, Kate shook her head and turned around just as Steph entered. The appearance of the blond woman was shocking. Her long, blond hair lifelessly framed her face, covered in dark, drying blood. Kate could only see her left eye; the other eye was bruised and swollen shut.
"My God, Steph!" Kate rushed up from the chair. "What on earth happened?"
Disoriented, Steph stopped in her tracks. "The car," she whispered, her arms hanging loosely along her body. "I'm sorry."
Jason, who heard Steph, came rushing out from the kitchen. "Mom!" he called happily. But as he saw his mother's bruised face he stopped. "Mom?" Frighten by her appearance he silently began to cry while slowly approaching Steph.
Kelly, who frozen in surprise still sat in her chair, quickly stood and reached for Jason. "Fabricio!" she called. "Get out here!"
“And someone call Wilson !" Kate yelled.
Although Jason struggled to get loose, Kelly managed to move him away from Steph. Holding on to him, she soothingly whispered that everything was going to be okay. Inside she wasn't sure what to believe.
Regaining herself, Kate said, "You need to sit down, honey” Seeing the open wound on Steph's forehead, she bit back her fear and continued, “We've got to get you to a doctor." Gently she walked Steph to a chair.
"The car," Steph repeated beginning to shiver.
Kate wet a napkin with her mouth and carefully tried to clean away the blood. "I don't give a damn about the car," she replied, losing herself for a bit. "I only want to make sure you're well."
Steph tried to stand up as she was feeling irritated that Kate didn't listen to her. "I'm fine, Kate," she argued. "But the car -."
She never managed to finish the sentence before she threw up. Bending forward, she felt like the world was exploding. The wound in her forehead began to bleed again and a small stream of blood mixed with the vomit on the floor.
"I just have a little bit of a headache," she whispered and wiped away the bad taste from her mouth.
“Just a little headache,” Kate agreed lying. Where the hell is Wilson ! she cried quietly. Her mind raced as she grabbed a napkin from a table and gently pressed it against the bleeding wound.
Incapable of looking up, Steph argued, "An aspirin and I will back on my feet again."
Kelly returned. " Wilson is on his way," she said to Kate and grimaced as she saw what had happened. "He said we should get her to lay down on the floor, put a cold compress on her head and especially hold her neck still. And keep her awake!"
Kate rose. "Come on, Steph," she said. "You heard the lady."
With an effort and pain Steph couldn't recall since she gave birth to Jason, she rose from the chair and lay down on the hard floor. Beginning to shiver, she whispered, “It's cold.”
Looking at Kelly, Kate ordered, “There's a blanket in the back of my car. Go get it.”
Softly, Kate caressed the bruised face. This was a nightmare coming true, she realized. A worst-case scenario and she couldn't do anything but wait. Carefully, Kate brushed away dirty strands of hair from her lover's face all the while thinking changes in life came too fast. The difference between happiness and fear moved with the swing of a pendulum.
Life is too precious to miss, she thought, tenderly watching Steph close her eyes.
“Stay awake, Steph,” she said determinedly and gently snapped her fingers across Steph's cheek.
Kelly returned and spread the wool blanket over Steph just as the door swung open and Richard Wilson walked with distinct strides into the restaurant. "Hello, Kate," he said in a calm voice. "What happened?"
Kate took a deep breath and shook her head. "I don't know, but Steph keeps talking about the car so I suppose she hit something."
Richard nodded while kneeling next to Steph. "Mm, that explains why your car looks like it does," he responded and quickly glanced at Kate before turning all his attention to Steph.
"Steph," he said with a low voice. "Can you hear me?"
Wrinkles appearing across her forehead revealed she did and when the left eye opened he was certain.
"You didn't need to come, Richard," she mumbled. "I told her."
Richard smiled softly and held her wrist with a soft hand, counting the beats of her pulse. "Kate made a correct decision," he replied. "And you will have to pay her back when you're up on your feet again."
A strained quirk appeared in the corner of Steph's mouth. "Bet that is what she wants," she said barely moving her mouth. She closed the eye again and sighed deeply. "The car?"
"What about the car?" Richard asked casually and continued to quickly check her status.
Steph sighed, irritated that no one seemed to care. "It's a mess!" A flash of recollection passed and she saw again, the dying eyes penetrate her own. She tried to get rid of the image but it wouldn't go away. Fear of the haunting eyes caused her to breathe heavily and not until she found a soft, familiar hand in her own did she feel safe again.
“It's okay, Steph.” Kate reassured. “It isn't anything that can't be fixed.”
While checking her, Richard asked Kate if she did not have an airbag in her car. Kate shook her head, telling him it released one day when someone bumped into the car while it was parked. After that she had never bothered to install it again.
“Mm, maybe you should. It's against the law not to,” Richard said.
Embarrassed, Kate agreed.
Informing nothing was broken; Richard carefully placed the neck-brace around Steph's neck then carefully cleaned and bandaged the wound on her forehead. He considered if it would be safe to take her to the hospital without an ambulance but as Steph winced in pain he decided not.
Then he slowly rose and motioned for Kate to do the same. "She has a pretty bad concussion and is in shock," he said carefully as she rose. "She needs to be checked for internal injuries, too. I'm going to call for an ambulance and she will need to stay at the hospital at least for the night.”
Kate felt her heart ache, but nodded she understood. "Will she be okay?" she asked, looking down on Steph.
"I don't expect to find anything serious," Richard replied with a comforting voice and put his hand on her shoulder. "But I have to take her to the hospital, do a few tests and then let her sleep till tomorrow before we know for sure."
Crossing her arms across her chest, Kate nodded again. It was indeed a nightmare. This whole day was nothing but a mistake and whatever it took to avoid experiencing it again, Kate was willing to do.
Holding Jason's hand, Kate watched the ambulance leave with Steph inside. Kate's heart cried for her to follow, but Steph had insisted she remain with Jason. Kate realized it was time for her take her place, be the mother she never thought she would be.
After calling Jason's school and rescheduling her appointments, Kate and Jason walked to the hospital as early as they possibly could; but not wanting to wake Steph up, it was almost noon by the time they got there. Already outside her door they could here Steph arguing with Dr. Wilson. Kate chuckled relieved to hear she was getting better.
As they entered her room and saw Steph's face blown up like a purple balloon, Kate wondered how she possibly could manage to talk at all. Her right eye was completely swollen closed and a big band aid was taped across her eyebrow; her cheeks seemed more beat up than yesterday, as did her mouth. Jason recoiled at the sight but Kate gently squeezed his hand, telling him it was alright. Within, she felt a big lump grow in her throat but steeling herself she did not let her fear take over.
Kate had barely managed to sleep during the night. The sense of being in a void of uncertainty, of not knowing how badly injured Steph was, haunted her as soon as she closed her eyes. But no matter how broken Kate felt, for Jason it was worse.
Confused and afraid he had followed Kate home. Gently, talking to him Kate tried to convince him his mother needed extra care at this moment, but soon would be home for him. Eventually, Jason fell asleep in Kate's bed and unconsciously chased after her though the night seeking safety. Only sleeping sporadically, Kate embraced the small boy in her arms, keeping him warm and sheltered.
Seeing them enter, Steph tried a smile. “Kate, tell him!” Without waiting for an answer, she turned back to Dr. Wilson. "I have a child to look after," she argued, rubbing the side of her forehead without the bandage. Her head felt as if it were about to explode.
Richard shook his head. “Stephanie, you will have to remain where you are. I'm not letting you out of here before you can move without throwing up.”
Kate could only smile. She had figured Steph was quite a stubborn person considering her determination with science and the life as a single mother on a boat; but this was really the first time she had seen her this restless and argumentative. The introspective woman she'd gotten to know was becoming more outspoken.
Crawling up on her bed, Jason carefully looked at his mother. "Don't worry about me, Mom," he said gently. "Kate takes care of me."
Steph turned to him. "Yeah?" Her voice was without enthusiasm.
Jason nodded then shyly smiled. "She let me sleep in her bed. On her arm."
Steph's eyebrow quirked and she casually eyed Kate. "I want to sleep on your arm," she whined feeling the pain in her head increase again. Through the night, the pain had come and gone; each time it returned she had felt like this was the end of life. The nurses had run in and out from her room; cleaning her up, changing her clothes and sheets.
"No one takes care of me here," she complained just as her face turned white and the convulsions started again. With inner strength, not wanting to scare Jason off, she swallowed anything that tried to come up.
Seeing how she fought to maintain her composure, Richard shook his head. “You, young lady, are not leaving this room until you can act normally among people again.” He then turned on his heel, patted Kate on her shoulder and left the room.
Pouting, Steph mumbled, “See, they just leave me here in this stinky bed. Alone.”
Kate smiled, leaned down and gave her a quick peck on her mouth. “I can't imagine why.”
The next day, after a full night sleep, Steph sat on the bed fully dressed listening to the restrictions Richard was giving her. Kate stood by the door waiting and silently let the conversation end.
"Okay, Steph," Richard said with an authoritative voice. "You have to stay in bed for at least three more days and the only time you're allowed to get up is to use the bathroom."
Steph nodded carefully, realizing that she better stay quiet if she wanted to get away from the antiseptic smell around her. The thought of staying in bed did not sound too bad to her, especially since Kate was going to stay home during this time. Shooting Kate a glace, she offered a pleased, if not lopsided, grin.
The gaze did not pass Richard unnoticed. Looking down on the chart, he casually said, "And you are ordered to take it easy - extremely easy.” He looked up and pinned her with his expression. "No physical activities." He cast a quick glance to Kate as well.
Steph nonchalantly faced him. "None what so ever?" she asked casually, seeing Kate straighten up as if she were about to say something.
Grinning, Richard shook his head.
Steph sighed and stood up. "What a waste of time," she mused turning to Kate. "Don't you think?"
Kate's eyes widened and a flush immediately colored her cheeks. She wondered if Steph was not more injured than the doctor had found. Maybe it was the medicine? "Just how hard did you hit that head of yours?" she asked embarrassed, eyeing both the doctor and Steph.
"Pretty bad," Richard chuckled, motioning for Steph to move over to the wheelchair. While wheeling Steph out into the hallway, he said, "Although you were one of the worst patient I've ever had I want to see you next week and if the pain doesn't ease, give me a call and I'll stop by."
Before Steph said anything, Kate broke in. “Thank you, Richard. I will make sure she won't do anything stupid.”
Chuckling, Richard walked away. “Yeah, that makes me feel a lot better.”
Carefully, Steph eased back against the soft pillow in Kate's king-size bed. Her first impulse had been to go back to Voyager but Kate had promptly refused; feeling the warm bed, the warm room, she was glad for not having argued any further about it.
She had only slept in Kate's apartment a couple of times. For some reason Voyager had been the place they went to after Kate closed the restaurant. Now, Steph wondered about the reason but found none.
Perhaps I believed it would be the best for Jason, she thought as her son sneaked into the bedroom.
"Come here," Steph said, gently patting on the bed. "So you've been sleeping in this bed through the nights?"
The boy quickly crawled up and carefully lay down next to his mother. "Yeah," he replied in a faint voice without looking at her. "It's really comfy to sleep in."
Steph carefully pulled him closer and let his head rest against her shoulder. "I'm sorry I scared you, Jason," she whispered, kissing the top of his head. "I will do everything in my power to prevent anything like this from happening again.” She paused and let him take his time to relax. “It looks really scary now but I will soon be fine again. You don't have to worry."
The boy curled up against her but he did not say anything.
Softly brushing her hand across his head, Steph asked, "Do you remember when you crashed into Kate on the street and you got a few stitches?"
“Yeah,” Jason mumbled.
"Then you can recall how much your chin ached for days after?" She talked with a calm voice, wanting him to understand without hiding anything.
"I woke up every time I moved," he murmured in reply. "And then it itched really bad."
Steph chuckled. "Yeah," she said smiling. "I remember you couldn't let it alone."
He slowly sat up and looked at her. Silently he observed the purple color around her left eye and the row of stitches just above her eyebrow. "Does it itch?"
Steph instinctively touched the bruises with her hand. "No," she replied with a grimace. "It still hurts. But not as much as it did yesterday."
Jason nodded and steadily glanced at her. "That's good," he said seriously. "But in a few days it will itch and that's as bad."
Playfully, Steph groaned. "You really know how to cheer someone up."
"How are thing's going in here?"
Both looked up and found Kate leaning against the doorframe. Kate had deliberately left them alone, giving them space to talk about what had happened. Jason hadn't looked at Steph when they arrived at Kate's apartment and she knew, from his uneasy sleep, his mother's collapse in the restaurant terrified him. Her responsibility for Jason had made her suppress her own fearful emotions but now as Jason relaxed, she felt how they slowly began to surface.
Jason smiled widely at Kate and leaned back against his mother's arm. "She's going to be okay," he stated. "It's not as bad as it looks like so you don't have to be afraid."
His voice was so certain and soothing, Kate could not help but laugh. It was relieving and once again she felt a sting of compassion pass through her; she was reminded how fortunate she was not only to have Steph in her life, but also Jason. "You are such a wonderful boy, Jason.” Smiling, she walked to them and sat down on the bed.
Jason reached out, took her hand and pulled her down on the bad. “I love you, Kate,” he whispered into her ear.
Kate felt her heart tighten; like she had held her breath for a very long time, her emotions released and feeling tears trickle down her cheek she pulled Jason closer. “I love you, too, Jason.”
Sensing the moment deep inside her, Steph closed her eyes and smiled. She could feel how her life changed, how with every moment she came farther and farther away from what had been and closer and closer to what was to come. Suddenly, everything in her past seemed meaningless although she knew it was not. It was her journey to get here, a hard journey but now well worth it.
Not long after Steph got to bed, sleep took over and swept her away. When she eventually woke up the house was silent. A narrow stream of light flooded through the dark curtains and into the room, telling her it was still daytime. Thirsty, Steph carefully sat up and reached for the glass sitting on the small nightstand.
As she drank, soft noises of someone working in the kitchen got her attention and she thought about getting up to see what was going on. The thought of leaving the soft bed was unsettling though and as she heard Kate's soft footsteps approaching, she gently sank back against the pillow.
The door opened and Kate contour became visible in the pale light.
"I'm awake," Steph said in a slightly hoarse voice, smiling at the shadow in the door. Stretching her arm toward Kate, Steph begged, "Come and join me."
The shadow stepped into the room, walked towards the window and opened up the curtains. Kate turned around and faced Steph with a soothing expression. "How do you feel?" she asked. She still hadn't been able to talk to Steph, not by herself; not in the way she needed to ease the terrifying tingle inside her.
Steph could hear in Kate's voice something was bothering her and she had a pretty good idea what it was about. Grabbing Kate's hand, Steph pulled her down on the bed. "I'm doing fine," she replied softly, nuzzling against her. "And when you're here I feel terribly well."
Kate chuckled, sensing Steph wanted to make her feel better. Resting on her elbow, Kate looked down on Steph, her closed eye and bruised face. "You sound well, my dear," she whispered. "But - I'm sorry to say this - you don't look as good and I'm certain you don't feel as well as you say. "
"Mm," Steph hummed as pain pulsated through her eye. No matter how much she hurt though, having Kate close again, taking in her scent, made her emotions take another turn. "You are a tough one," she mused, her head resting against Kate's shoulder as her arm snaked around her waist.
“Only for now,” Kate replied brushing her hand across her hair.
Sighing, Steph let herself be carried into the soft embrace feeling every nerve in her body relax. She languidly glanced out through the window. The sky was shifting to purple and the faint sparkles from the awakening stars popped up - one here, one there. The days were slowly becoming longer and - despite the pain - Steph felt nothing but joy about the future.
"Where is Jason?" she asked tightening the embrace.
"Ted picked him up," Kate responded, kissing the top of her head. "He was taking the kids to hockey and asked Jason if wanted to come along. I hope that's okay?"
Steph's eyes stayed focused on the sky. This is a good life for him , she thought and took a deep, relaxing breath. "Of course it is," she replied and softly kissed the arm that held her. "As long as you can stand listening to his euphoric report when he gets back."
Kate grinned. "I think I'll survive. He was very excited when he left."
"Bet he was."
Turning around, Steph met Kate's look. Her eyes looked tired and the tiny wrinkles around them seemed larger. Smiling, she softly caressed Kate's cheek. "It seems to me like you haven't been taking care of yourself,” she stated in a clear voice.
Feeling the last day's action grasp onto her soul, Kate inhaled as tears suddenly burned in her eyes. Her lover's bruised face had haunted her through the few hours of sleep she had gotten when Steph was in the hospital. Laying with her arm around Jason, she had looked out into the dark room, the sky outside; her mind wandered but she could not remember what she had been thinking of. As the sun had risen, she slackened and dozed off in the last few minutes' left of the night.
"I was so afraid," Kate breathed, feeling tears roll down her cheeks. "I've never been so afraid in my entire life.” Her voice faltered. “I could have lost you."
The words made the last day's restraint burst. Rolling over, hiding her face in the base of Steph's neck, she cried in a way she had not done since she was a child.
She always had full control of her emotions - even letting Steph into her life had been with some control - but losing her was something she could never prevent. The turning point Steph and Jason meant for her life could have been wiped out as quickly as it got here. Like the tide every day sweeping away every trace of life from the beach, she could have woken up with only memories remaining. The thought terrified her and she realized the epicenter in life had moved. Love, for the bruised woman healing in her home and the boy she had brought into this world, was her new center.
Steph wasn't surprised when Kate fell apart and she was glad to be there to comfort her. Although hitting a small deer with a heavy Ford Explorer did not kill her, the incident proved how precious every moment in life was. Without any warning you can turn down the wrong path, where darkness emerges in the horizon and soon your life is in the middle of something you cannot escape from.
"Don't leave me, Steph," Kate mumbled between snivels. The request was as dumb as the answer would be impossible to keep, but at the moment Kate only wanted to hear the words.
Without hesitation, Steph answered, "Never."
After Jason returned from the hockey game, Kate sat with him over a cup of tea and a ham sandwich, gladly listening to his animated report of the game. Having trouble sitting still, the young boy jumped up and down from his seat; showing how goals were made, how a Boston player tackled a Montreal player so he flew across the ice. Kate laughed and in her mind thanked Ted for giving Jason such an experience. It had done him good to get out of the house for a while, spending time with other people. Doing something different.
As she gently tucked him in, he pulled her closer and whispered, “Thanks for letting me see the game.”
Kate smiled and kissed his nose. “You're welcome.”
Somewhere far away Kate heard a dinging tone. Slowly opening one eye, she read 07.30 on the clock next to the bed. It was Saturday and Kate had hoped it would be a long, quiet morning, but remembered she had promised something else.
"Is that the door?" Steph mumbled behind her.
"Yeah," Kate whispered and stood up. Putting on her robe, she said, "Kelly was supposed to stop by before work. I totally forgot."
Steph growled, turned over and whined. "I'm crippled. I don't have to get up."
“Crippled” was an overstatement. Steph was getting better each day; even though still bruised, stiff and sleeping fitfully through the night. Knowing Steph was tired, Kate smiled and walked out of the bedroom.
"Did I wake you?" Kelly asked as she hung her jacket on the hook on the wall. "I could come back later."
Kate brushed her hands through her mussed hair and stifled a yawn. "It's alright," she replied walking into the kitchen. "I'd be up soon anyway. Besides,” Kate eyed the bag in Kelly's hand. “I wouldn't want to miss newly baked croissants."
Putting the paper bag filled with pastries on the counter, Kelly grinned and helped herself getting orange juice while Kate made coffee. "How's the patient doing?" she asked.
"She's progressing nicely," Kate replied, picking out mugs from the cabinet. Turning to Kelly, she added, "She seems to take the accident better than I did."
"Well," Kelly said and sat down. "It was quite a shock when she came in and you couldn't possibly know how bad it was."
Briefly closing her eyes, Kate took a deep breath then slowly exhaled. "It was the worst moment in my life,” she said. “That whole day was just terrible.”
Shaking the thoughts off, Kate sat down next to her friend. The sky outside was gray and it looked like it was about to rain. The weather didn't bother her on a morning like this though. The fear she had felt was now replaced with growing strength and she felt determined to follow the trail that had been staked out by the accident.
Pouring a glass of orange juice for herself, Kate said, "I'm considering selling Tavern By the Sea."
Having known Kate for most her life, Kelly sat stunned.
"What?" was the best she could respond.
Chuckling, Kate was well aware how this announcement would shock Kelly. It amused her though to still be able to surprise Kelly.
"Or at least get a co-owner," Kate continued. "I love the restaurant, Kelly. You know that, but it's becoming -," Kate searched for a word to describe her feeling, "a cage. I feel trapped."
Slowly, Kelly found words coming back to her. "Are you still in some kind of shock after the accident?" Kelly managed to ask.
Smiling, Kate shook her head and rose to get the coffee. "It sounds like it, huh?"
Pouring coffee into mugs, she sat down again. "So much has happened lately and it has affected me in more ways than the gay one,” she stated, eyeing her friend. “For the first time I don't feel I can commit so much time to other people. I need to think about myself, my family.”
Kelly nodded. She new Kate well enough to see that the enthusiasm she had for Tavern By The Sea was waning.
"What are you going do?" she asked curiously and took a bite of the croissant.
"Focus on the academy. It is an enormous project but it's mostly daytime work. I need more time off in the evenings and the school will give me that.”
Kelly grinned. "Who would have guessed Kate Jordan was becoming a family woman.” Kelly laughed. “A mother!”
Both Kate and Kelly registered soft footsteps approaching the kitchen. Looking towards the door they saw Steph casually enter. Only wearing a pair of pajamas pants and a UCLA t-shirt she faced the two women with a smirk.
"Morning," Steph said, slumping down in a chair.
Smiling, Kate put her arm around the blond woman and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek.
"Should you be up?" she asked gently while carefully examining the swollen eye. The purple color seemed to have faded to yellow and she saw traces of the blue eye beneath.
Still a bit drowsy, Steph grabbed Kate's hand. "I feel better. I'm just going to have some breakfast."
Steph looked at Kelly. "Thanks for taking Jason to the hockey game yesterday,” she said. “It was really sweet of you."
Kelly tilted her head and glanced at Steph. "No problem, dear. He can come as often as he likes."
“I'm sure he would like that.”
“Speaking if which,” Kate said. “Where is he?”
Steph reached for the pitcher of orange juice and grabbed Kate's empty glass. “He snuck into our bed when you left. Still sleeping like a rock.”
A comfortable silence fell. Kelly couldn't stop looking at the bruised face and Kate gently caressing Steph's hand. "I don't know if the woman you've fallen for," she casually said to Kate, "is as good looking as you've told me."
Kate looked at her friend, offering a big grin. "Oh, you should see her body."
The blunt reply took Steph by surprise and she sucked the sweet orange juice down the wrong way. Kelly couldn't help but laugh and although Steph grimaced as she coughed, she could see a smile wriggle in the corner of her mouth.
“I'm sorry, honey,” Kate said, brushing her hand across Steph's back.
Still coughing, Steph stood up. "Excuse me," she said grabbing a croissant. Regaining herself, she looked at both women with her only functioning eye. "I think this party is a little too provocative for me so early in the morning. I will pay you back, though." Smiling, she leaned down and kissed Kate on her forehead.
"Oh," Kate whined and let go of her hand.
"Ladies." Steph nodded and deliberately swung her hips as she walked away.
Kelly giggled. "Nice," she commented.
"Tell me about it," Kate replied not able to hide a proud smile.
After four days in bed, Steph was restless. The sheets felt too warm and the mattress too soft. She needed something to do and had asked Kate to go and pick up some books on board Voyager. Standing in the window, she glanced at Kate and Jason as they disappeared around the corner. The sore eye was getting better and she could almost see something blurry with it.
Taking a deep breath, she turned around and walked into the kitchen. There she filled a pot with water, placed it on the stove and casually waited for it to boil. It had always fascinated her how the few minutes it took for water to change to steam actually seemed like an eternity.
I should always wait for water to boil , she thought restlessly. Time was moving fast, too fast, Steph thought and wished there was time for her to enjoy her new life. It was all happening at once – Kate, job and Jason in school. Having only worked for two months, she already dreamed about vacation.
Chuckling at herself, she observed the postman walking with fast strides along the sidewalk. He fiddled with a pile of letters as he walked between the buildings, preparing for the next row of mailboxes.
“I wonder if he thinks time is moving slowly,” she mused as she heard the sounds of water boiling.
With a mug of steaming hot tea, she grabbed the phone from the wall and sat down at the table. Unconsciously taking another deep breath, she looked at the phone in her hand before quickly dialing.
"Dr. Harris," the voice answered at the other end of the line.
Steph hitched at the cheerful tone and after a beat of silence spoke, "Hi, Mother. It's me."
"Stephanie!" Ruth's voice was mixed with surprise and hesitation. "Is something wrong?"
"No!" Steph's response was immediate – too quick to sound real. Anxious about talking to her mother, she felt the headache return and she pressed her hand against her forehead. She said, "Can't I call my mother without anything being wrong?"
Hearing Ruth sigh in the other end of the line, Steph regretted her comment. "I'm sorry," she said in a faint voice.
"Is something wrong?" Ruth asked again sensing something wasn't right.
Steph carefully took a sip of the hot tea then gently put the mug down on the table. "I've been in a car accident," she said looking at the gray sky outside.
"Stephanie!" Her mother cried. "When? Why haven't you told me? "
Two questions, yet Steph didn't know what to say. "How are you?" she heard her mother ask.
"A concussion, a few stitches in my head and a really nice purplish eye," Steph uttered. "Other than that - okay."
A hiss of silence grew long before Ruth commented, "You don't sound okay." The annoying silence fell again as Ruth tried to find a way to approach her daughter. "Where are you?" she finally asked.
Steph smirked sensing a certain disbelief in her mother's question. "At Kate's," she replied softly. "And I'm being well cared for, Mother; both Jason and I."
Silence was again heard through the phone line and Steph wished she could have seen Ruth's face at the moment; be able to read the emotions passing over her face and reach out for her at any hints of fear found. Waiting, Steph circled the rim of the mug with her finger while looking on a postcard on the fridge. It was a picture of mountains. The postcard said it was Montana . Steph had read the text the first time she visited Kate. Who it was from, she still did not know.
"That's good." Steph suddenly heard her mother respond. Her voice was soft and calm, not forced as it could be.
Ruth added, "I'm glad you're not on board Voyager."
"So am I," Steph said smiling. Not wanting to let the good moment pass, Steph cleared her voice and said, "I have to go now. I just wanted you to know."
"Yes," Ruth answered a little too quickly for it to sound natural. Not really knowing what to say or how to talk to her daughter, Ruth stumbled on the words “I'm glad you told me, Stephanie. Take care of yourself.”
Holding her breath, Steph blurted, "I miss you, Mother."
Ruth didn't respond immediately, but feeling her headache fade, Steph felt complete relief. She took the step needed for them to start all over again and somehow she felt her mother was going to join her.
Finally Ruth answered. "Can I call you tomorrow?"
Steph smiled, feeling the pieces of her life fall into the right places. "Call anytime," she responded.
A couple of weeks later, Kate was back in the restaurant humming an old tune she didn't recall the name of. Having spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with the restaurant, how to make her life less occupied with work, she now felt she didn't know where to go. She turned every page of her life to see how best to approach the issue but found little help. It was like looking at a picture, trying to find what was wrong, but after too much looking it all floated together in a big blur.
She struggled between selling all, giving up management, giving up the academy or just letting it be as it was. There was something positive in everything and she loved what she was doing but somewhere along the road, she knew her preoccupation eventually would abuse them all. She had to choose, let go of something.
Without noticing it, the door opened and a woman entered. Hearing the door close, Kate snapped out of her thoughts. She smiled and said, "Welcome.”
The woman responded in kind and looked around the restaurant. "I would like a cup of coffee." She faced Kate. "A moccachiato."
Kate nodded. "An excellent choice," she said, offering the woman a warm smile and a seat by the window.
Preparing the strong coffee, Kate continued to hum the tune while curiously glancing at the woman by the window. She was dressed in a burgundy, wool turtleneck and black pants, her steel-gray hair pulled back behind her ears; she made an intense impression. Sitting with her back straight and looking out through the window it seemed as though she was waiting for someone yet not.
Clearing her head, Kate focused on her task; she poured the coffee in a cup, placed two biscotti on a plate and then walked to the woman.
"Here you go," she said, setting the cup and plate down. "The biscotti's are just lovely; especially in combination with this coffee. I hope you don't mind having a few on the house?"
“Not at all,” the woman responded and looked up.
A pair of ice blue eyes met Kate. Taken aback by their familiarity, she faltered. Seldom had Kate been unsure, unsettled, but caught off guard by this unexpected visitor she did not know what to say.
Kate smiled uncomfortably. “Pardon me,” she said, “but … Dr. Harris?”
Holding a biscotti in her hand, the woman replied. “Yes. Ruth Harris.”
Having Steph's mother sitting in her restaurant was surreal, but Kate also felt a hint of foul play. She was pretty certain Ruth Harris knew that her daughter's lover owned a restaurant. Ruth could have introduced herself up front as she stepped in but chose to hide; perhaps hoping to get a glimpse of the life Steph was living. But whatever her reason was, Kate didn't want to play the game.
Kate smiled nervously and briefly looked out through the window before saying, “Kate Jordan,” and held out her hand.
Gently shaking Kate's hand, Ruth said, “Please, Miss Jordan , have a seat.”
Without knowing what would come, Kate sat down. She felt naked and wished she had a cup of coffee to hide behind.
Ruth spoke. “I'm sorry for coming in like this, Miss Jordan . I was looking for Stephanie aboard Voyager but she wasn't there, so I decided to wait here for her. It did not strike me until it was too late that I was face to face with-,“ she faltered, “you.”
There was sincerity in her voice and Kate realized Ruth found the situation as awkward as she did. Under any other conditions, Kate was a natural when talking to strangers but at the moment she was at a loss. Meeting the in-laws was usually a big deal, but under these circumstances it felt light years more foreign than when she had met her ex's parents. She surely had been nervous but at least she was prepared.
Looking at Ruth, Kate thought about the things she had heard about her. How Steph felt like she had struggled all her life to reach her mother, to get her attention. Kate thought she didn't look like someone who would abandon her child; instead she found the older woman comforting. She had a feature that spread confidence; someone you could trust. Kate concluded it was not too far from the impression Steph gave.
Kate told Ruth she looked very much like her daughter. “You have the same eyes,” she explained.
Ruth smiled. “I think we are more alike than just looks.”
Having spent years not thinking about how her life was affecting her daughter, Ruth began to see how alike they were; Steph was simply following her heart, just as she had. Ruth hoped though, she was not doing it to prove something.
Practicing medicine, being a renowned professor was everything Ruth ever wanted to be. As a young girl, she dreamt about taking care of people. Healing them. Her parents did not believe she could become a doctor though, maybe a nurse, but Ruth was persistent to prove them wrong. Graduating top of her class, she kept her focus and climbed the career ladder quicker than most. She still loved her job, still did it with passion for healing but lately she questioned how much of her effort was still about showing her parents that she could.
“I think she will be glad to see you, Mrs. Harris,” Kate said smiling. “She mentioned how good it felt the last time you talked on the phone.”
Sipping her coffee, Ruth nodded. “Yes, it did.” Looking down, she fell silent for a moment then continued in a faint voice. “It scared me to hear she had been in an accident. Being so far away, I couldn't think of anything but seeing her.”
“I know what you mean,” Kate replied. Recalling Steph's bruised face, a shiver passed through her body.
It was getting dark outside and Kate took a quick glance at her watch. “Listen, Mrs. Harris-,”
“Please, Miss Jordan , call me Ruth.”
A bit surprised, Kate smiled. “If you call me Kate.”
Ruth agreed. Already, she could see why her daughter might love this woman. Although it must have been odd for her to understand this was Steph's mother she was serving, she was yet gracious. Considering everything, Ruth felt Kate handled the situation well.
“Ruth,” Kate continued, “why don't you follow me home and see Steph there? Join us for dinner?”
Without any further consideration, Ruth accepted and Kate said, “I need to pick up Jason from school. Would you like to come?”
Hearing the name of her grandson made Ruth smile. “I would love to.”
They drove the short distance to the school in Ruth's rental car. Ruth asked Kate how he was doing in school.
“I think he has learning in his genes,” Kate said.
Ruth chuckled in agreement. She told Kate that Steph had been very quick to learn when she was a child and always enjoyed reading.
They parked the car at the school and stepped outside to wait for Jason. As soon as he saw Kate he picked up pace and waved goodbye to his friends. Not until he was almost up to her did he notice the other woman behind Kate. Faltering for a split second, Jason then shouted, “Grandma!”
Stepping forward, Ruth squatted and opened her arms for Jason to fall into. “How is my little boy,” she asked, lifting him up. “Oh, you are getting heavy.”
Jason grinned. He was growing quickly and if he was growing like his mother, he would end up being a tall man. Ruth had no idea what his father looked like but felt now she was a bit curious to know where the other part of Jason was coming from. Filing away a mental note to ask Steph, Ruth put Jason back on the ground.
“How was school?” Kate asked as they moved towards the car.
Taking Kate's hand, Jason replied, “Cool.” He footed away a small rock. “We read some old story and it was really cool.”
It had not passed Kate unnoticed that Jason had changed his way of speaking since he started school. Not much but the influence from other children was evident. Though it did not matter, Kate realized they had to keep an eye on him. She smiled at herself and what her thoughts focused on these days. Children. Less then six months ago, she could not even imagine having one but now -. Her life would be empty without him.
Parking the car on the street outside Kate's apartment, Steph turned off the engine and stepped out. She had just finished her first week working since the accident and although she only had three lectures, she was exhausted. The drive back and forth was making her more tired than she expected; now she longed for a relaxing weekend, watching movies and napping on the couch.
As soon as she entered the apartment though, she got a strange feeling her wishes were not about to come true.
“Mom!” Excitedly, Jason came running up to her. As Steph caught him in her arms embracing him in a playful hug, he added, “Grandma is here.”
Steph dropped the boy to the floor and her eyebrows shot to her hairline. “Mother is here?” she asked.
Jason nodded. “Yeah. And you know what? She gave me a 49'ers sweater!”
Steph could still not believe what she was hearing. “She is here?” she asked again, aware that someone was leaving the kitchen. Steph quickly took off her jacket, brushed her fingers through her hair and nervously entered the living room. There she was, in the middle of the room – her mother.
“Mother.” Steph did not know what else to say. Not only was she surprised Ruth was in Port Baily but seeing her in Kate's apartment was more than she could put together.
Ruth smiled at Steph's stunned expression. “If you think this looks odd, Stephanie - trust me – it is.”
With Steph still rooted to the floor, Ruth told her how all this came about. Steph could only laugh. All the angst she had felt after Christmas was being swept away by a coincidence. She imagined if Ruth had found her onboard Voyager, it would have been different. Kate, being a professional hostess, handled her mother in a way she never could have done; giving her coffee and biscotti; inviting her for dinner. The saying “the way to a man's heart is through his stomach” seemed to work fine for Ruth Harris as well.
Kate emerged from the kitchen. Having heard Steph come home, she felt a knot tighten in her stomach about having Ruth there. She didn't know how to act with Steph around her. Could she give her the welcoming kiss she normally did? A hug? Perhaps a soft pat on her arm would suffice? The smile on her face felt forced and Kate realized it had been easier talking to Ruth while Steph was not present. Now she was more than Ruth Harris; she was also Steph's mother.
Looking at Kate, Steph said, “Aren't you brave; inviting a stranger to your home.”
A playful quirk played across Steph's face and Kate could tell she was happy. She replied, “Well, someone had to take care of her.” She thought about her next line for a beat then added, “And I do have some experience at taking care of stranded Harris women.”
They all laughed. Steph walked over to Ruth and embraced her in a bear like hug. The tension seemed to be broken.
“When you two are done,” Kate interrupted their moment, “dinner is ready.” She then turned back to the kitchen, leaving mother and daughter alone.
Steph asked Ruth what she was doing there. Ruth told her hearing about the accident was like an awakening to her. She realized if she were going to put their relationship together she would have to do it herself. There was no time to sit and wait for things to get better without doing anything.
Steph smiled. “I realized that, too.”
Before finishing the conversation, Jason interrupted declaring dinner was still ready and he was hungry.
“So, Mother,” Steph began as they all sat around the table, “what have you been doing?”
Having loaded her fork, Ruth said, “I have a sale pending on the house.” She finished her bite and waited for Steph's response.
As nostalgic emotions about the house returned, Steph grabbed her glass and swept the wine. Ruth's statement floated in the air till such degree you could almost feel it. Ruth and Kate waited for Steph to say something; Jason took another bite of his food.
Steph eyed from one to the other, then said, “That is great, Mother.” She smirked feeling a bit proud of herself for not staying in the past. “How much do you get?” she wondered taking a bite.
“2.4,” Ruth said eyeing her daughter.
Steph stopped chewing and looked up. “As in 2.4 million?” she asked stunned.
Ruth nodded. “Much has happened the last thirty years in real estate. Inflation for instance.”
Seeing Steph trying to get the numbers together, Kate congratulated Ruth. The older woman told Kate they had bought the house shortly before Steph was born. It had been in need of renovation so they got a great deal. “Back then,” Ruth said, “the house market wasn't as absurd as it is today.” During the last thirty year, San Francisco had grown to be one of the most attractive cities in the world. “The flip side is that housing prices have gone astronomically high,” Ruth explained. ”It's hard, especially for young people, to afford decent housing there today.”
“So,” Steph said, finally gathering herself, “What are you going to do now?”
Ruth turned to Steph. “I'm looking for a condo in Boston and think there is a pretty good chance I'll get something I will like.”
Steph agreed. “I assume you're not going to sit around doing nothing.”
Chuckling, Ruth took a sip of wine. “No, I put out a request to Professor Levin at Massachusetts General and he was quite excited.”
Breaking in, Kate asked what her specialty was. Ruth told her she had spent her life researching cancer at Stanford. Now, she actually looked forward to working with other people. “I have worked with the Cancer Center in Boston a lot during the years.”
Having finished his meal, Jason asked to be excused. Steph told him to clear his place and then get in the shower. The boy whined, saying he didn't need a shower but Steph playfully pulled him to her, sniffed his sweater and said he definitely needed one. Sighing, Jason put the plate in the sink and then dragged his feet out of the kitchen.
“Don't forget to brush your teeth,” Steph hollered after him.
“No, Mom,” he replied without enthusiasm.
Seeing both Kate and Ruth smile, Steph said, “He's not yet domesticated.”
“He is doing fine,” Ruth said.
To see Steph and Jason interact with one another was quite a joy for Ruth. Like most mothers, Ruth had been shocked the day Steph told her she was pregnant and was going to raise him on her own. She was afraid Steph would sacrifice either science or her child. But Steph proved her wrong. Jason had been around her most of the time – at work, on trips and as company. They seemed to share a special bond Ruth herself did not have with her daughter.
Looking Steph squarely in the eyes, she stated, “You are a great mother, Stephanie.”
The honesty and suddenness was almost weird, but Steph was not going to let her old demons break the comfortable atmosphere they had tonight. Putting the kind words close to her heart, Steph said, “Thank you, Mother.”
“Speaking of houses,” Ruth said looking at Kate. “Before I got here I talked to a realtor in Boston and he sent me a picture of a lovely little house just east of here. I think the name of the place was-,” she paused and tried to remember. “Edgewater.”
“Edgewater!” Full of surprise, Kate eyed Ruth.
Turning to Steph, Kate blurted, “That is my house! The house I grew up in.”
Both Steph and Ruth looked at her.
“I had no idea it was for sale,” Kate added.
Kate drifted away among memories and momentarily the evening ended. After Ruth left, Steph and Kate were cuddling in bed. Brushing her hand through Kate's hair, Steph suggested, “Perhaps we should go and look at the house.”
Kate sat up resting against her elbow. “Would you like to?”
Seeing the unguarded expectation in her eyes, Steph answered, “It would be fun to see where you grew up.”
Smiling, Kate bent forward and kissed her. “Just to look,“ she said and deepened the kiss.
During and after Steph's convalescence, Kate felt the bond between Steph, Jason and her grow. Kate found that family life, which she previously walked away from, satisfied her. It did surprise her a bit; intrigued her how easily she stepped away from the restaurant and how life outside of it was full. A brief reflection that she had missed something during the years even managed to pass through her mind, but she quickly realized her experiences created who she was today. She became more and more certain that moving on was the best thing for her and for the restaurant.
It won't benefit anyone if I halfheartedly remain, Kate determined as she walked to the restaurant, wondering how to bring up the question with Fabricio.
Having called Fabricio into her office; he now huddled in the deep chair, crossed his arms and slightly shook his head. Kate's offer was so great he had barely been able to comprehend what she told him. It was indeed unexpected. Frightening even.
When his days were monotonous, the thought of his own restaurant briefly passed through his mind. Something small, presenting the kind of food only he had created in his dreams but never in reality. Actually, it was practically the same as Kate's but still, they would be his. He enjoyed Tavern by the Sea, and had not thought of going elsewhere, though Kate had mentioned many times how he would profit from new challenges. Now, doors to new possibilities swung open and he sensed challenges lining up before him. He was not prepared.
"I don't understand," he said in a voice more sulky than intended.
Kate was well aware this had come as a shock to him. His expression said everything. She tried to sooth his fears. "I'm not going to be that far away, but it is time for me to move on."
"Where would that be?" Fabricio asked, again cursing the tone he spoke with.
There was a pause. “I'm going to work with the academy but also,” she waved her right hand trying to put words on her intentions, "I just want to take care of myself for now. "
She saw his eyebrows arch in doubt. Perhaps it was strange to hear her say this, but for all these years she had lived to serve others; it was now becoming a responsibility she no longer cared for. The joy was fading with the demands put upon her. She had other things in life, things that needed her attention more.
"I don't intend to treat Steph and Jason the same way I handled my marriage," she continued with a soft but determined tone. "I want to spend time with my family." She smiled. “I want to go to a restaurant and be served.”
Fabricio nodded, slowly accepting the explanation. He was well aware of how much time and effort Kate had put into the restaurant and he understood the costs. Just thinking about how much time he spent working and knowing Kate probably spent fifty percent more was enough of a reason.
"Do I have to decide now?" he asked straightening himself in the chair.
"No, of course not," Kate replied quickly, relieved he was not turning down her offer without consideration. Leaving the restaurant in the hands of Fabricio would be so much easier than selling to someone else. The place still meant a great deal to her and leaving it wasn't easy although she hoped to find something better. With him, she knew the spirit she had built it on would survive.
"It's a lot to think about," Fabricio said eager to explain the hesitation. "But I'm honored you want to share with me, Kate, and to be honest - it is kind of a dream." He smiled faintly as a nagging feeling of anticipation grew inside.
"I have a few ideas about what I would like to do," he continued, wriggling like a young boy in his chair.
Kate's eyebrows shot up and a grin spread across her face. "Why haven't you told me?" she asked.
He shrugged and casually looked at her. "I don't know," he replied feeling a little embarrassed. "There has been so much around you lately. I didn't want to bother you."
Kate frowned and suspiciously eyed him. "Have you lost you're mind?" she wondered playfully. "It has been a lot lately - yes - but not that much. I'm still interested in what you have to say."
Fabricio just smiled at her in response and Kate slowly rose from her seat.
"Think about what I've said," she said, looking down on him. "No rush, but do think it through."
Nodding, Fabricio said, “I will. And I will need to talk to the bank.”
Knowing how much Fabricio had earned the last eight years, Kate knew he would not be able to pay for the entire business in cash. Spontaneously, she suggested they could share ownership the first couple of years although he would be in charge.
“You mean I would handle everything and you just in name only?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Fabricio said, knowing Kate just gave him cause for a long sleepless night.
Looking down on Fabricio, who remained seated, Kate said, “It is not that complicated. “ She patted his shoulder and walked towards the door. Before leaving, she turned around and said, “Don't forget to sleep tonight, my friend.”
Fabricio did not respond. His gaze was locked on some distant point and his mind traveled along winding roads.
Spring was gently sneaking up on Port Baily. Leaning against the railing on the veranda, Kate could see men preparing their boats to be put back in the ocean; Jake Larry was sitting on a chair along the southern wall, keeping a watchful eye over his domain while puffing on his pipe. Kate glanced at the sun, feeling it caress her face.
A car horn sounded. Kate walked back inside, picked up her coat and left the restaurant. In the car, Steph waited; Kate jumped in and they drove off.
After a couple of restless days thinking about the house, Kate had, during breakfast, asked Steph if she had time to go look at it. It was Steph's day off and she did not mind getting out for a while.
They picked up Jason at school and drove for about half an hour, eventually turning onto a narrow gravel road. Trees grew closely along the sides; the road was rutted and a tall strip of last years grass furrowed the middle.
Steph looked at Kate, who unconsciously nibbled her lower lip. “Excited?” she asked smiling.
Grinning, Kate ignored her tease. Instead she said, “I can't remember the road being this bumpy.”
Minutes later a clearing opened up and a weathered picket fence stopped them from driving any further. A sign reading “Welcome to Edgewater” was nailed next to the gate. Jason jumped out of the car, opened the gate and Steph drove through.
The white, clapboard house was oriented with its side to the road revealing one floor, an attic with a small window and around front a large porch. It was cottage style; Steph had seen the type before in the area. Old summer houses for wealthy city people.
Hand in hand with Jason leading, they walked up to the front of the house. Right there, Steph saw what she had hoped to see: the ocean. She stopped in her tracks and glanced out over its vastness. No wind and the waters beyond were flat. A flock of seagulls floated up and down in the swell, others followed a small fishing boat on its way back to Port Baily.
Steph smiled. “It's beautiful,” she said, putting her arm around Kate's waist.
“Yeah,” Kate breathed.
She had not been here in more than fifteen years. The house and the yard seemed to be taken over by vegetation like old temples in a jungle. Only the contour of the strawberry field was left, the apple tree dressed in moss grew wild, the vegetable garden was overgrown and its windbreak lay tragically sunken into the ground.
“It's not too well cared for,” Steph mused as she looked at the house. The paint was flaking off, a chair lay beneath the porch and the windows were gray with dust and sea spray.
“No,” Kate replied sadly. But behind the misery, Kate saw nothing but love.
She told Steph about the cherries blooming in May and the daisies blooming around midsummer; about dew chilling her feet as she tip toed across the lawn in the summer morning to take a swim, the sun dappling her face as she dosed off in the hammock, and how she listened to the pendulum from her grandma's clock before she fell asleep at night.
She remembered playing, sunshine and summer rains. Summer nights; winter mornings. As a young adult, she had memories of cuddling up in front of the fireplace with a steaming cup of coffee. Home.
Steph slipped her hand into Kate's and turned to see Jason race along the fence between the yard and the ocean.
The young boy stopped and curiously leaned against the fence, glancing out to the ocean. Any other mother would have called for him to back off, to be careful, but Steph let him be. Having taken his first stumbling steps in life on board Voyager, she trusted him not to lose balance on solid ground.
Steph felt saltwater hit her senses; it was in the smell and taste of the air. Large cumulus clouds turned up far out to the east. It might rain tomorrow, she thought shivering as the clouds moved towards land.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Steph mused, “I could sell Voyager.”
“What?” Kate was not certain she had heard correctly.
Steph smiled at Kate's surprised expression. “If I sell Voyager I can live here,” she said. Pausing for a beat, she then added, “We can live here.”
Kate turned serious and Steph pondered if she had said something wrong. Letting go of Steph's hand, Kate walked up on the porch. Brushing her sleeve against a window, she then framed her face with her hands and peeked in to the house; she walked to the next window and did the same; she moved on to the door and twisted the doorknob a couple of times. The door was locked.
Not knowing what Kate was thinking, Steph let her be, giving her the time she needed to do what ever she was doing. After a long moment, Kate slowly turned to Steph and looked at her. She said, “Fabricio is buying me out of half the restaurant.”
Steph began to laugh. A lot. She laughed till tears streamed down her cheeks and pressed her hands against her stomach trying to make it stop. But it didn't.
Kate looked at her, first wondering then smiling. Suddenly, the corner of her mouth began to flicker and carried away by Steph's laugher she did the same. Stumbling down the porch, she fell into Steph's arms.
Laughing for a long time, the storm of laughter eventually ebbed. Steph looked into Kate's shiny eyes. “This is big,” she whispered.
Pulling her lover closer, Kate rested her head against Steph's shoulder and looked out over the glimmering ocean. “Very big.”
A flock of migrating geese came flying in from the ocean; another one was approaching in the horizon. Resting her cheek against Kate's head, Steph followed life returning to Port Baily. She smiled. It had been a long time since she had felt this grounded, this relaxed. Nothing like it had been the night they landed in Port Baily, the night it all began. Port Baily had been cold and unwelcoming; Steph had thought of nothing but leaving. Yet, in that night, her future turned onto a completely different path. She was going home.
Must be mermaids living here , Steph thought as she kissed Kate's forehead and felt her spirit settle down in the small town along the shores of Massachusetts .