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ALL FOR LOVE


Copyright © 2017 Jea Hawkins

All Rights Reserved

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used, reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

© Cover Art by Satyr Designs

For more information:

www.jeahawkins.com

Jea’s Newsletter



Part 1

In the City





Chapter 1

Another Sunday dinner, another tense drive home. It was like visits with Dani’s family sucked the joy out of the both of them. At first, it just happened every so often, usually because Dani’s mother had a criticism about their relationship or the decisions they made. In a way, they almost missed those days when every little bit of motherly nitpicking was personal.

These days, the complaints were centered on things Jaz knew Dani just wasn’t ready to deal with yet. Going to dinner with her parents was something they had to steel themselves for every other week. They were always happier on the weeks they visited Jaz’s family. But the dinners with Dani’s parents? Both Jaz and Dani hated those days, and the car ride to and from the Thayers’ home was just an uncomfortable extension of that.

Of course, they couldn’t help it that Dani’s parents were never satisfied. Ever. With anything or anyone. The Thayers had ridiculously high standards that everyone else consistently failed to meet, yet somehow the problem according to Dani’s parents wasn’t their impossible standards – it was the rest of the world’s fault. And recently they had added doctors to their litany of complaints during dinner. Doctors and their health because, apparently, the doctors hadn’t yet found a way to ensure the Thayers would live forever, or at least not without being troubled by aches and pains.

They were legitimate concerns, of course, but Jaz and Dani were only in their mid-thirties and they weren’t ready to face anything that might involve making decisions with and for their parents. Dani’s saving grace was that she had older siblings who probably endured the same complaints on their visits.

But Jaz’s worry was selfish. It was for the direction of her relationship with Dani.

What had happened to their lives over the ten years they had been married, Jaz wondered. Between the weekly reminder that they both had aging parents and long hours at their respective jobs, it felt like the only time she and Dani got just for the two of them was when they slept. Supper was all about rehashing their days at work, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing since they both loved their jobs. Saturdays were for errands, but they didn’t run them together as often as they did when they were newly married. Dani almost always brought work home with her, which meant Jaz went out on her own to the bank, the grocery store and if she ditched work on a Friday, the Copley Square Farmer’s Market.

Something about their marriage needed to change and it didn’t take an every-other-Sunday tense, silent car ride to drive the point home.

Jaz saw it in many places, such as the way they went through their morning routine like robots programmed to carry out the same tasks every day at the same time. She saw it in the small things, too. There was the fact that they ate the same food for dinner week after week, or how she remembered to pick up Dani’s allergy medication at the pharmacy every fourth Friday. It was all so comfortable and mundane, and she wasn’t sure that was a good thing if it meant no more intimacy.

“Remember what it was like?” she asked as she turned onto Broadway, which would bring them from Cambridge into the very heart of Boston.

“Hm?” Dani was staring out the window the way she usually did after visiting her parents. The partly open window let in a light breeze that lifted the tendrils of her long, wavy red hair. Jaz loved how the sun glinted off those strands, the halo effect it created that made Dani look more ethereal than human. How could she not love this woman who was not just beautiful, but incredibly intelligent? Every time she took a moment to just stop and look at her, she remembered that sense of Dani being the yin to her yang, of completing her life by filling it with light and love.

“When we first started dating,” Jaz clarified. “Do you remember what it was like?”

The soft “hmph” Dani let out was a cross between a breath and a suppressed laugh. Then she blinked and turned her green-eyed gaze toward Jaz. “I guess so. Why?”

“What do you think happened to us and the way we used to be?”

“I think life happened. We turned into responsible adults like we were supposed to.”

“So do we get a medal for that or something?”

“I don’t think adults are supposed to care about getting rewarded for doing the right thing.”

Jaz gripped the steering wheel. What else did she expect? That was Dani. Steady, dependable, very much an adult Dani. But the feelings she’d noticed with increasing frequency over the past few months were more powerful than wanting to do the right thing. What was right for some people wasn’t right for all people, first of all. Second, maybe her sense of something being out of place wasn’t about acting like adults. Maybe something else had been nagging at her emotions. Was it biological? She was thirty-six, after all.

“I remember when we couldn’t wait to see each other,” she told Dani. “Like it was the most exciting thing in the world to be together.”

“Are you saying you don’t feel that way anymore?” Dani gave her a half-smile. It was the same kind of smile her mother gave them when they said something she took as mildly offensive, like, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Thayer. The tea is lovely. It’s just a little cold.”

“No, of course that’s not what I’m saying.” Jaz gripped the steering wheel and rolled her eyes. Dani had not just her mother’s smile, but also her gift for passive-aggressiveness, though in a far less jaw-dropping form. “You know that’s not what I mean. It’s just that we don’t seem to have the thrill anymore.”

“Oh, come on. What’s more thrilling than when I bring home files to work on and you bring home more take-out than we should eat in one night, just so you can take care of me?”

“I don’t know. Things like skipping work on a Friday and walking through the farmer’s market, holding hands or going on an unexpected adventure together.”

Dani chuckled. “Adventure. Sure. When was the last time we did that? It’s easy to do that when you’re young and in love, and you don’t have as many responsibilities.”

“We’re still young. Thirty-six certainly isn’t old,” Jaz pointed out.

“Right, but being thirty-six isn’t the same as being eighteen. And I guess you’re right that we’re not old just yet. My parents are the old ones, with their hips and knees always giving them problems. It used to just be complaints about the neighbors doing something as tacky as hanging up a string of Christmas lights and now it’s this. They’re so damn sensitive about everything.” The cloud settled over Dani’s mood again, closing her off to Jaz.

“My parents are old,” Jaz said softly.

“They’re barely in their fifties. That’s what happens when you’re a post-hippie teen parent – you don’t out-age your children very quickly because they’re the products of young, free love. Mine waited until they were our age to have me. That’s the deal when you’re upper class. Children must be planned carefully and spaced out accordingly. Otherwise, I would have taken the attention away from my brother and sister.”

Dani never missed an opportunity to poke fun at her own upbringing. Jaz supposed she was right. Their parents were as different as night and day – the wealthy Thayers and the crunchy Burkes. Of course, they both loved their parents, but they definitely came from two different worlds and very dissimilar upbringings.

Now it seemed like, over the past ten years, they had merged their differences into a single, seamlessly-blended life, just like married adults were supposed to do.

But what kind of life was it now that the mundane eclipsed the special moments they used to share when they were dating?

Dani obviously didn’t see a problem, but Jaz did.

And she was going to do something about it.

~*~

Dear Fancy Face,

Have a wonderful day. I’ll be here waiting for you.

With all my love,

Sunshine

“You are so silly.” Dani handed the note to Jaz, who read it over and handed it back to her. “I almost pulled that out at my meeting first thing this morning.”

“Gosh, you did? How awful.” Jaz was laughing, though, as she stirred the pasta in the pot on the stove’s back burner.

“Make fun of me all you want, but a ‘Hey babe’ text would have done the trick if you just wanted to let me know you were thinking about me. Accountants aren’t amused by love notes, especially when it’s tax time and we’re dealing with everyone who has to pay. No one likes love notes on pretty paper when they’re dealing with the IRS. Nobody. And I’d really rather they never found out my nickname if you don’t mind. You’re the only person who ever called me Fancy Face.”

Jaz turned off the heat and brought the pot to the sink to drain the pasta. “First of all, the entire school called you Fancy Face. Second, you’re probably right about the method and the timing,” she agreed, “but a text would not have ‘done the trick.’ I wanted to do something a little different and make it special.”

“Fine. Whatever. Just don’t put the special in my briefcase.” As Dani spun on her heel and walked toward the bedroom, Jaz sagged against the countertop. That wasn’t the reaction she’d been expecting.

When Dani returned, Jaz drained the pasta and glanced up at her. “I just wanted you to feel loved,” she said. It had come to her in a flash of inspiration after they got home last night – to put something unexpected in Dani’s briefcase on top of all those boring files, something pretty and sweet to make her smile first thing in the morning.

“I do feel loved. You don’t need to put a note in my briefcase to make me feel that way.”

“Don’t you remember when we stuck notes in each other’s lockers?” Jaz shook the colander and watched the droplets of water fall into the sink. “There was nothing more exciting about junior and senior year than finding notes from you.”

Dani sat at the table and looked thoughtful. “I suppose I know what you mean, yeah. That was always fun. Kind of like when you’re a kid and getting mail seems exciting and you think you can’t wait to be an adult, so you can get all the mail too. But then you grow up and realize the mail adults get isn’t fun at all. It’s just credit card offers and bills.”

“And advertising circulars.”

“Or catalogs.”

Jaz made a face. Catalogs were the thing she hated the most. They destroyed trees for no good reason, especially with everything available online now. With a toss of her long blonde hair, she stepped away from the sink and got two plates.

“You’re serious about this making me feel loved stuff,” Dani said as the silence grew taut.

“I’m serious about it,” Jaz affirmed.

“I knew there was more to what we talked about in the car yesterday. Look, it’s completely unnecessary. It’s not like I’m looking for someone else. I’m here comfortably and happily with you.”

Jaz finished their dinner plates and set them on the table. “It’s the comfortable aspect that concerns me. I realize there’s a certain amount of comfort that comes with being married to someone for so long, like being able to pee with the door open, but once that happens – once the mystery is gone – what then?”

“If you want mystery, I think Murder, She Wrote is available on Netflix.”

“I’m serious.” Jaz handed Dani a fork and then sat across from her.

“So am I.”

Jaz made a face, but when Dani didn’t look up or say anything else, she picked up her fork and twirled it in the middle of her plate of angel hair pasta. How long did it take to rekindle the flame of excitement they’d had when they were first dating, for small gestures to mean something?

The honeymoon was definitely over with a capital O.

Chapter 2

Few things were better than a warm, sunny, early spring day. It was like winter lifted away and gave everyone a glimpse of what they could expect for the next few weeks before summer came blazing in and drawing people to the Cape for beaches and quaint seaside cottages.

One of the best things about being her own boss and maintaining a virtual store instead of a physical one was that Jaz could take advantage of days like this. So she closed her studio early, packed a basket with goodies from the deli, drove across town, strolled into Dani’s office, and held up a large picnic basket with a flourish. “Ta da!” she trilled.

Dani looked up at her over the frame of her reading glasses, then pulled them off and set them on her desk. “Hi. What are you doing in this part of town, Jazzy?” It was a valid question since the high rise where Dani worked was on the opposite side of the city from Jaz’s design studio. Driving through Boston wasn’t for the faint of heart, but Jaz didn’t mind traffic the way so many other people did. Dani was twitchier about it and usually took the T or used the company car.

“I thought we could have lunch together,” Jaz answered and gestured for her to follow. “Come on. Let’s go. It’s a gorgeous day and you don’t want to miss out on it. I’m taking you to Sunken Gardens, so turn that computer off and call it a day.”

“Jaz.” When Dani leaned back in her chair and folded her arms, Jaz knew she was in for a lecture. Dani always managed to look and act more grown-up, which made Jaz feel a bit like a kid, especially today when she was wearing the weathered jean jacket her mother had worn in the 80s, with her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and a picnic basket clutched in her hands.

She knew what was coming. It would be some kind of speech about responsibility, about adulthood, about how Jaz trying to somehow revive the spark in their romance was unnecessary because they knew they loved each other, and that was all two grown women needed. Dani was always short and to-the-point, and then back to business.

“It’s tax season. I’ve got several returns to complete and clients who are panicking about what they owe. This is the worst possible time for a picnic and you know that.”

“No,” Jaz insisted. “It’s the best possible time because the more stressed you are, the harder it will be to do your job. Let’s go.” She offered her hand and waited for Dani to accept it.

Unfortunately, her wife simply stared at her hand and then shook her head. “I’m going to need to take a raincheck, honey. I know you would like for us to spend more time together, but it’s just not possible right now. Just know that I love you and I’ll do my best to make it up to you.”

If there was one thing that Jaz wouldn’t let deter her from her goal, it was failure. She and Dani had dated for over five years before they were married, a tumultuous and exciting time for them since their relationship was forbidden on many levels. And then the first six months after their wedding had been even more romantic. They couldn’t get enough of each other and they reveled in the fact that they never had to part ways to go home again; their home was finally together. Jaz didn’t think it was possible, but every single day after their honeymoon felt like a time of discovery. Moving in together, spending every night in each other’s arms, cooking and shopping together – they were some of her favorite pastimes, other than making love to her wife, of course.

It hurt to realize they had lost that somewhere along the way, but Jaz wasn’t about to give up. If it took them all that time dating and wooing each other to decide to spend their lives together, then she was prepared to spend another year making sure they both still felt that way.

Even though Jaz left the office dejected, she wasn’t done yet. By the time Dani got home for dinner, Jaz had renewed her determination to make her wife feel loved.

“Hey. What are you doing?” Dani set her briefcase on the table and sidled up to Jaz.

Jaz didn’t look up from her work. Her long dark blonde hair was braided now to keep it off her face as she chopped vegetables. “What does it look like I’m doing?” she asked.

“It’s my night to make dinner, not yours. You cooked last night.”

“So?”

The exasperated sigh Dani let out made Jaz giggle. “Hey, it’s not funny. We’re creatures of habit. Your nights are Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday. My nights are Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Friday is always take-out night. It’s my turn. You don’t have to do this.”

“I can’t believe you’re giving me a hard time about cooking dinner for us.” Frustration rose within Jaz, choking her as she slid the garlic into the frying pan. Dani wasn’t responding to her gestures the way she’d hoped she would and it made her want to cry. Maybe Dani was right. Maybe everything about their lives was just fine. There was no need for either of them to go above and beyond to make the other feel special or loved, to break them out of this rut. They were already married, after all, and that was enough of a statement about their commitment.

Right?

If she fell into thinking that way, would they still be happy in another ten years, or would they be bitter and angry with one another? As much as Jaz wanted to ask that question, she asked Dani to tell her about her day. And even though Dani seemed put out that she was cooking, she sat at the table and accepted the dinner Jaz put in front of her while talking about a particularly annoying client.

This is more of an uphill battle than I expected, Jaz thought with a sigh as Dani mentioned that she would be working late on Wednesday and Thursday, and bringing home even more work on Friday. Of course, she knew tax time was difficult. Dani had been an accountant since just after college. But when she was in her twenties, she used to say things like, “A movie? Sure. No worries – I can catch up tomorrow. That’s what going to work is for, right?”

Now it was all about staying on top of her job, no matter what, no distractions allowed. It also didn’t help that Dani brought that work home with her every weekend and spread it out all over the kitchen table. They had a fancy dining room they never used and an office they also never used.

It would be nice to separate work from what should be family time…

~*~

“Ta da!” Jaz set the shopping bags on the table and Dani lifted her head from the file, blinking up at her. Since she knew she wouldn’t be able to tear Dani away from her work to go shopping with her, even on a Saturday, Jaz had run the most exciting errand before the grocery shopping. It made her move through the store much faster because she couldn’t wait to show Dani what she bought.

“Hey there. Do you need a hand putting anything away?” Dani asked as she drew off her reading glasses and looked at the assortment of bags.

“That’s so nice of you to offer.”

“Well, your stuff is on my work.”

Jaz took a step back and folded her arms. She wasn’t going to let the stinging comment deter her. “Well, your work is all over our kitchen table in our breakfast nook, where we’re supposed to enjoy leisurely brunches together.”

Dani’s chuckle was borderline derisive. “When was the last time we enjoyed a ‘leisurely brunch?”

“Exactly.” Jaz opened one of the large plastic bags with a flourish. “You need a better place to work than our kitchen table, so I got things to help you organize your desk.”

Dani set down her pen and finally looked at Jaz with interest. “I could use a better space than this, but might I remind you that the entire office is covered with your stuff. Heck, you commandeered my desk, so you’d have one for work and one for design, but you never work in there. It’s just a glorified storage area now.”

“I know that, but no longer will my work plague you. Today I ordered a drafting table for design and picked up some stuff to organize my work, so you get your desk back. Plus, I got some things to make your desk more conducive to your needs.”

“Really?” Now Dani rose to her feet to look at the items in the bags. “If it’s office supplies, you’re speaking my language.”

“Well, I know office supplies mean love.” Taking out one thing at a time, Jaz showed her the containers, organizers, and other office supplies. They were all from the same coordinated set, something Jaz knew Dani loved. After she showed her everything, they gathered the bags and brought them to the second bedroom that served as their office.

“I guess I can take a little time to help you organize this,” Dani said as they both surveyed the room.

Just as she said, it was a bit of a disaster area. Even though Jaz had a separate studio, it seemed like plenty of things piled up here, too, like magazines, newspapers, old calendars – anything she found that inspired her to design and create something new.

“It would be nice to work at a desk, instead of at the table.” Dani looked relieved at the thought of using the desk, which had more space than their bistro style breakfast table.

“Exactly. But I need something from you before I give you your gifts.”

“Oh, this is contingent on something?” Dani folded her arms and glared, but her smile betrayed her mock outrage. “What is it?”

“I want you to promise we’ll eat together on Friday nights without so much as a Form 1040 in sight. I hate the idea of you being so consumed with your work that you just glue yourself to this chair day and night. You aren’t allowed to escape to the office and tune me out. Do we have a deal?”

Dani let out a snort before wrapping her arms around Jaz’s waist. “I suppose, as long as you understand it’s not personal. It’s just work.”

Maybe that was how Dani felt, but Jaz suppressed a shudder because that was exactly her problem.

It wasn’t personal anymore.

Chapter 3

Jaz knew they were both relieved it was her parents’ week for dinner. Something about visiting her family was soothing, probably because the Burkes rarely complained about anything.

They weren’t just hippies who had named their children for flowers, although that was probably part of why they were so laid back. They lived in a peaceful, rural area north of Boston and, lately, they’d been talking about moving even further north to Vermont, where Jaz’s younger sister owned a small farm. It sounded ridiculously idyllic to Jaz at first, but the more she thought about it, the less silly the idea seemed.

Just the very notion of getting away from the city and Dani’s long work hours sounded appealing, even if it was only for a week to visit family. When Lily had moved a few years ago, Jaz and Dani had both talked about wanting to do the same – raising chickens, goats, and bees, enjoying the peace and quiet away from the city, and growing their own food. But as they got older, Dani started pulling a face when Jaz mentioned it. She protested that she was a city girl and that without her fast-paced job, she would be bored out of her mind. Or she would argue that she meant for it to be something to consider when they were older, like the same age as their parents.

Still, the idea of moving away from the city lingered in Jaz’s mind, flickering there the way spring made its tentative transition from winter – not quite fully formed, but teasing her with glimpses of what was possible.

Jaz let out a sigh and turned on the radio as she drove. They had plenty of time to consider a change of lifestyle, but she sincerely hoped she wouldn’t have to wait another twenty years before Dani was ready to embrace the idea. For now, she turned back the clock just a bit and focused on reminding Dani of those feelings they had shared when they first chose each other. She pressed the play button for the CD she’d put in when Dani wasn’t looking.

It was a mix CD. In fact, it was the first mix CD she’d ever made for Dani. Considering they grew up during a time when tapes were falling into obsolescence in deference to CDs, they both still had a fondness for the idea of the mixtape. This one had the music they both knew and loved from high school, songs that Jaz had put together to let Dani know how she felt about her after they met in 2001.

Dani looked at the radio, her brow furrowing as the first song played. It wasn’t one heard on the radio anymore, if ever. “Is that my CD? Where did you find that? I thought I lost it.”

“So did I, but it was in our CD case in the living room. That thing is dusty – we never listen to CDs anymore now that we have MP3s.”

“No, we don’t. That’s kind of sad, really.” Dani tilted her head and then smiled. “Maybe we should listen to them, though. We used to listen to them all the time.”

“Like when we were first married and we’d put on a song, have a glass of wine, and just look out at the city lights from the living room window?”

“Yeah. Just like that. It was nice to be able to snuggle on the couch and see the lights, wasn’t it?”

Jaz smiled in return. A victory at last. As long as Dani held on to that feeling, maybe they could revisit their old habit of curling up on the couch with some wine and the blinds raised so they could admire the cityscape at night.

They arrived at the Burkes’ pretty bungalow-style home. Jaz’s mother was in the front yard, her hands thrust deep into the soil as she planted flowers. Her long, curly blonde hair cascaded down over her shoulders, almost to her waist. Ever the hippie, she was wearing a long skirt that Jaz had spent years trying to wheedle into her own closet, to no avail.

“Is it already time to plant annuals?” Dani asked, craning her head to look through the window.

“Yeah. This crazy little thing called spring is here. Haven’t you heard or did they board up the windows in that responsible adult corner office of yours?” Jaz parked and stuffed the keys in the pocket of her denim jacket.

“Speaking of crazy little things, that coat of yours is way outdated. Like, 1977 outdated.”

“Well, I love it. It’s comfortable and broken-in.” Jaz leaned across the seat and whispered in Dani’s ear, “Like our marriage.”

“Ooh, now you’re really throwing down the gauntlet, aren’t you? You’re way too serious about this whole comfort thing. Stop beating a dead horse.”

Jaz gave Dani a sly grin before stepping out of the car and calling out, “Mom!”

“Hey, you.” Mrs. Burke finished tamping the soil down around her geraniums. Sometimes it was hard to believe she was in her early fifties. As far as Jaz was concerned, her mother hadn’t aged at all over the years. Her long blonde hair still had its luster and her figure remained slender, even after two children. Of course, when Jaz looked closer, she saw white threading her mother’s hair, but it only made her that much more beautiful.

“Mom, the pansies are gorgeous,” Jaz said after they hugged. “I’m glad spring is finally here.”

“Me too, though I’m sure by the middle of summer, we’ll be ready for winter again.” Her mother grinned at her and then hugged Dani. “How are you, Dani Doll?”

“I’m good,” Dani said. “Just really busy with work since it’s that time of the year.”

Mrs. Burke hooked her arm around Dani’s and said, “Well, of course you are, but I’m glad you’re not too busy to come to dinner. Come on in, girls.”

Jaz followed her mother and Dani into the house. It was one of Jaz’s favorite places to be because even though it was small, her parents’ had decorated it in a way that was bright and airy. However, during the last few dinners, they also talked about the potential move up to Vermont, living closer to her sister and helping out with her farm. At the moment, the idea of escape was especially appealing, if it meant Jaz would never hear the words “But it’s tax season” again.

It wasn’t like they were tethered to their home in any way. Their apartment had been a wedding gift from Dani’s parents, which had allowed both Jaz and Dani to build savings toward buying their own home sometime in the future. At first, the apartment had seemed glamorous and exciting to Jaz, especially since they treated it like it was special. But the older she got, the less material things interested her and the less time she and Dani spent cuddling on the sofa, listening to music, drinking wine, and simply enjoying the view beyond the windows.

What, she wondered, kept Dani putting in insane hours with her work? She had loved her job once, but now it seemed like more of a burden than a blessing. There just had to be other jobs out there that were similar, but less stressful. Jaz wondered if Dani would ever consider dialing her career back a notch, to something less demanding, while still challenging her intellect and love of organizing information.

“Oh, here they are!” Mr. Burke waved a dish towel at them as they entered the kitchen. “I’m making fajitas.”

Dani glanced at Jaz and then stifled a giggle. Those were words they would never hear in the Thayer household. Ever. Fajitas just didn’t go on the upper-class menu, but they were perfectly natural in the Burkes’ kitchen. They also pulled Jaz from her musings, though she knew the same questions would come up again as soon as she and Dani left to go home.

“That’s my favorite,” Dani said eagerly and crossed the kitchen to kiss her father-in-law on the cheek.

“I know they are. I thought you could use some to get you through the worst time of the year.”

Well, crap. Tax season had to follow them to Sunday dinner, too? Jaz sank into a chair at the table and picked up a tortilla chip.

“The salsa is homemade,” her father said, indicating the bowl next to the chips. “Your sister brought it last week.”

“Oh, Lily visited and you didn’t tell me?”

“She just popped by on her way to the Cape. She was taking her new guy for a weekend on the beach.”

Dani sat down and dipped her chip into the salsa. “Wow, this is amazing.”

“Isn’t it? Lily really has a talent for this farming thing. She’s already made room for us, too.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jaz sat back in her chair and looked at her parents. “Are you really moving? I know you mentioned it a few times recently, but is it actually happening?” Her gaze flicked back and forth between them.

“Well…” Her mother sat down at the table and shrugged. “She has a big in-law apartment and it’s just her and Kenzie on that acreage, and sometimes Rob stays over. Granted, Kenzie is old enough to drive and help out, but Lily really needs help out there. She’s gone from doing a table at her local farmer’s markets to actually producing foods.”

“Well, I can see why. This stuff is amazing.” Jaz concurred with Dani’s assessment of the salsa, and now she looked at her. “We’ve talked about it before, haven’t we?”

“Talked about what?” Dani asked. “Salsa?”

Jaz pursed her lips and tilted her head to one side. “No, silly. We talked about moving to Vermont. You remember,” she said. “We discussed it after Lily moved up there, about how nice it would be to get away from the city and live like that – in a small town.”

“Right.” Even though Dani nodded belatedly, Jaz knew she didn’t really remember. “Too bad there wouldn’t be any real reason for us to do that, but I’d love to know how you like it, Mrs. Burke.”

“We’re looking forward to it. It’s the perfect place to get away from everything and just be creative.”

Jaz looked at Dani, who shifted her glance down to the floor. “Perfect place to get away,” Jaz repeated.

Chapter 4

As much as Jaz wanted to put a note in Dani’s briefcase again, she restrained herself. Paper crafts were her life, so she couldn’t help but prefer the personal care and attention that went into a handwritten note on pretty stationery, at the very least, if not a personally-created medium for the message. Her passion for creating art went back to even before their high school days. Jaz loved to make collages, to mix and match, and create something new out of various resources. Her parents would bring her boxes of books, greeting cards, and postcards from yard sales to encourage the creative process. They didn’t have to be anything special. In fact, Jaz refused to cut up anything she knew was valuable.

She glanced out the window next to her desk in her studio. The reason she liked her studio so much was the view of the park. It gave her, as Anne of Green Gables had once said, “More scope for the imagination.”

Jaz rested her chin on her hand and stared out the window. When she was a little girl, she had dreamed of living in a quiet, green place, working on her art and gathering eggs from her chickens every so often. Then she’d met Dani who told her she shared the same dream – not to live the perfect life her parents had raised her for, but instead to get away from all of it and do something different. Dani had never quite defined what her own brand of “different” was, but when she was a teenager, she’d made it clear that she didn’t want to be “normal.”

Since Dani hadn’t found her place in art, music, or writing, she made the safe choice: accounting. It was an important profession, but instead of making Dani happy, she seemed more and more irritable as she was given increasing responsibility.

Every time Jaz created something new from some tattered magazines and books purchased at the local thrift store for less than five dollars, Dani would say to her, “You’re so clever and creative.” Then she would ruffle Jaz’s long blonde hair and kiss the tip of her nose.

Jaz turned back to the project at her desk and smiled down at it. It was a collage heart made from various papers. In the center was a snippet of cover art from one of Dani’s favorite books. Jaz cradled her smartphone with both hands and pondered the message she wanted to send to Dani. She finally took a picture of the collage heart and sent it to her.

My heart is all yours.

As disconcerting as it was to have Dani push back at her little gifts and attentions, Jaz knew she had to keep pushing in the opposite direction. Even though it was fairly early, she closed her studio and then paused on the threshold. What was the point of operating the studio, really? It wasn’t a store or physical retail space. Her customers bought directly from her website. Sometimes she went to shows and conventions, but more than ninety percent of her income came from online sales.

So, she concluded, as she stepped out onto the street, there was no reason to keep the studio. She wondered if her reasoning – that the studio was just a financial drain – would convince Dani that moving was a good idea. After all, no one knew numbers better than Dani.

She was the last person who would fault Jaz’s logic.

~*~

“What’s this?” Dani asked as Jaz set a cup next to her on the desk. The office was much tidier now, everything organized so they could both use it. It certainly wasn’t spacious enough for Jaz to relocate everything from her studio to the apartment, but if they bought a house…

Since tax season was still in full swing, Dani was pushing herself to keep up by bringing work home every night. Even though they ate dinner together as promised, she retreated to the office almost immediately after the dishes were washed and focused on her clients. Jaz decided if Dani was going to work more than she slept, she deserved a treat to keep her spirits up, so she brought her a warm, steaming cup of tea.

“Look at it,” Jaz said and stepped back to watch her reaction.

Dani turned the cup, looked at the tag attached to the teabag, and smiled. “Aw, that’s my favorite tea. When did you find the time to go get it?”

“Not all of us work twenty-four/seven, sweetie. I picked up a box of teabags and got a few of the special cups with the lids, too, so you could have your favorite gourmet, take-out tea anytime in the comfort of your own home. I also put together a goodie bag with another box of teabags and a lidded cup to take to work, so you don’t need to stop and spend five dollars a cup to get your daily fix.”

“Oh, that was so sweet, but I know it had to be expensive, too.” Dani pulled a face that sent a chill rushing through Jaz.

“You’re worth it, though,” Jaz said, wondering if now was the time to discuss giving up her studio. But the sensation of her stomach plummeting made her hesitate. Money was the least of their worries. Even Dani had never been much of a penny-pincher, though they certainly weren’t spenders, either.

“Mm,” was all Dani replied.

With a shrug, Jaz turned to her desk and looked at the bits of paper still scattered across it. Even with the office space available to her, she rarely worked at home and she hoped her logic – that she couldn’t justify wasting the money to rent her studio, even if the view inspired her – would sway Dani to consider moving. Living in the apartment didn’t do Dani any favors, either. It was gorgeous, but it was also noisy and bright when the blinds were open since they weren’t that far from the city traffic below them. Then, of course, there was the fact that living in the city was expensive.

There were more than enough sensible reasons for choosing to live in the country. Of course, the idea was also appealing for other reasons. It would be nice to have studio space in her own home, a place where she could look out the window and see green like she did on the outskirts of the city, but without having to deal with traffic congestion and noise every day.

“Have you thought any more about it?” she asked.

“Hm, about what?” Dani looked up at her. Those adorable reading glasses were perched on her nose again, so she peered over them to meet Jaz’s gaze. And there went Jaz’s heart again, only this time it was the kind of breathless reaction she used to have when she saw Dani crossing the high school football field toward her, that short skirt of her cheerleading uniform fluttering around her upper thighs.

“About the whole idea of moving to the country. Being here is just not conducive to…” Jaz flailed her hands a bit. “Anything, really. You’re trying to work, but you can hear people honking out there. I need more space for my stuff because my studio is great, but it’s a waste of money.”

The words came out in a rush and Jaz wondered if her explanation would devolve into babbling. It just might if she didn’t stop herself, but she couldn’t seem to.

“And what about the fact that we never get out of here, except to visit our parents? We live in the city, we work in the city – city, city, city. It’s the most gorgeous city in the United States, but it’s still a city. It’s wearing on us, Dani. We need a break from all this constant noise and light and motion. We need to get back to just us.” Jaz finally ran out of steam and stood there looking down at her wife, her chest heaving a bit as she caught her breath.

After a heartbeat, Dani finally spoke. “Jasmine Lee Burke.” When Dani used her full name, Jaz knew she was about to say something far too serious. “As cute as the idea of moving to the country is, it’s just not practical for us.”

“How is it not practical?”

“Ugh.” Dani set her reading glasses aside, grimacing as if she didn’t have time for an explanation. “First of all, this apartment is ours, free and clear. We’d have to buy a house, which is a very long and stressful process.”

“We’ve done nothing but save money for the past ten years. We’ve got enough money saved to buy a house outright with cash.”

Dani spun the chair around to face her. “Not in this market. Boston is expensive. And even then, say we can put down a good twenty-five to thirty percent down on a house. We’d still have a mortgage to pay, something we’re not used to.”

Jaz shrugged. “My monthly payment for the studio is at least a mortgage payment. Besides, I make plenty of money off my sales online. And maybe I could even open a little shop or sell at the farmer’s markets or something for a change.”

“But we have an entire life here,” Dani pointed out. “If we bought a house, it would be right here. There’s no logical reason for us to live anywhere else.”

“Live? You call what we do living? How much of a life is it if you’re stuck working all the time?”

“I’m an accountant and the entire first half of the year is tax season. We’ve been married ten years and you know what my job is like. I can’t change it for you. What do you want from me?”

Jaz lowered her gaze and tried to control the racing of her heart. “I don’t want to fight.”

“It sounds like you do.”

“No, I don’t. I just want to figure out how we can be happy together like we used to be.”

Dani turned back to the desk, shoved her glasses on, and muttered, “I’d be happy if I could finish this. Just be patient and we’ll circle back around by the end of April. I promise. We don’t need a farm in the country for that.”

Chapter 5

“It’s the end of April,” Jaz grumbled. It was almost as if the city was taunting her about it, too. The day was absolutely gorgeous. Besides having a clear blue sky overhead, the grass underfoot had finally changed from the dull yellow-brown of winter to a verdant spring green. This was the kind of day people should get out and enjoy.

Unless, of course, those people had the “It’s tax season” excuse.

“So what’s going on?” Alicia asked, bumping her with her shoulder as they ambled along the path around the park.

Jaz sighed and put her phone away in her jacket pocket. It was bad enough that it reminded her of the date. Worse, however, was that she still hadn’t received a message from Dani acknowledging the lunch she’d sent to her office along with a note about how much she loved her. “You know what it’s like to be married, right? Like how at a certain point, it’s not fun anymore. It’s just a fact of life.”

“Ha. If you got married thinking you were going to have a perpetual date night or spend all your time grinding pussies or just having the time of your lives in general, you’re doing it wrong. Marriage. Fun. Mutually exclusive, my friend.” Alicia snorted and shook her head, her long brown ponytail whipping back and forth with the motion.

“Come on. I’m serious. I need to talk to someone who understands,” Jaz pleaded. “Nothing is the way it used to be and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s like the magic is gone and I see it, but Dani doesn’t.”

“Oh yeah. The no-magic problem. Tell me about it.” Alicia blew out a sigh that lifted her bangs as they walked. Since it was such a warm, spring day, they were both taking some time to enjoy the sunshine. Alicia was an artist who rented the studio that adjoined Jaz’s, and every so often she mourned the loss of the things in her life that had made her feel like… her.

Kids, she usually told Jaz, would do that to a person. Jaz could always count on Alicia for perspective when it came to marriage.

“The whole ‘no magic’ thing is worse if you have kids, though,” Alicia said, which didn’t surprise Jaz. “I mean, your entire life centers around hoping you don’t fuck them up. It’s kind of daunting because once they come along, there’s no going back. Ever. And even without kids, we all have our days we wish we were eighteen again, wearing flannel shirts, torn jeans, smoking while you talk about how totally epic the Pearl Jam concert was. Marriage and kids represent a huge compromise of personal character, you know?”

“First of all, we didn’t have the flannel shirts and Pearl Jam phase,” Jaz pointed out. “We’re thirty-six, not forty-six.”

“Oh yeah.” Alicia shrugged and said, “Well, that phase was awesome, let me tell you. You would have fit right in, as cool as you are.”

“Thanks, but I’m not too concerned about being cool these days. What I wonder is does marriage have to be a compromise, like you said – I mean of our character and who we are?” Jaz asked. “Whether we have kids or not, why do we have to give up ourselves in a long-term relationship?”

Alicia seemed to mull it over because she chewed on her lower lip as she gazed up at the sky. “I don’t know,” she finally answered. “I’ve been married twenty years now to Jim, had two of the best kids in the world, and I still couldn’t answer a question like that. Maybe the question isn’t why do we have to give up ourselves, but rather why we actually do it.”

“You’re going to give me an existential headache,” Jaz moaned, glaring at Alicia. How a mother of two managed to look so polished with her long brown hair pulled back in a smooth ponytail and just a smidge of paint dotting her jeans was beyond Jaz. She felt like a mess every day, while Dani had perfection down to a T.

“Well, why don’t you go back to where it began, then? What made you fall in love with Dani?”

“Oh, boy. I guess the fact that she was the only other lesbian in our school.”

“Hilarious, but I’m sure that’s not true.” Alicia nudged her and said, “Come on. Really think about it. After all, you’ve been doing all these sweet things, trying to rekindle the flame or recapture the magic, or whatever. So what does that mean, exactly? How did it all begin and what do you want it to be like now?”

Jaz looked up at the puffy white cloud that was floating above them in the otherwise clear blue sky. “Well, Dani was the perfect girl, you know? She could have gone to a prep school, but she hated the idea, so her parents let her go to the charter school. I was there because of the art program. And even there, Dani was the head cheerleader and top of her class, but there was something about her beyond all of that. I wasn’t sure what it was at the time, but I could tell she didn’t take all of that perfection seriously. It just came easy to her, so she went with it.”

“Totally the opposite of you,” Alicia said.

“Definitely. I mean, I think I had pseudo-dreads at the time. I was in my ‘I’m-so-rebellious’ phase. The weird girl, but at my school weird was a relative term. I think I had gotten weirder every year just trying to out-weird the other art kids until Dani noticed me some time after winter break of our junior year and said something about it.”

They finally stopped meandering along the path and sat on a park bench. Jaz crossed her legs under herself, a bad habit that always caused one foot to fall asleep. When that happened, she would stumble around the apartment, dragging the foot behind her while Dani scolded her about her sitting habits. Their relationship had started with unsolicited advice, too.

“She came up to me one day after school. I was standing on the side of the building and laughing with my friends when she walked up. I think they were a little afraid of her because no one really knew her, you know? Other than the idea that she kind of ruled the school in a stereotypical teen movie way, she was a stranger to us. But Dani stood in front of me, then she reached out and picked up one of my dreadlocks and told me she liked my hair, but that it would look so much better if I just kept it natural.”

“Wow.”

“Right?” Jaz took a deep breath and clutched at the slats of the bench beneath her. “It was annoying because I didn’t want that perfect girl to like my hair, but I also didn’t want her not to like it. I wanted to see if she was serious and if she would have the courage to say something about my hair again if I changed it, even though I didn’t need her approval.”

Alicia chortled and slapped her hand on her leg. “Oh, that’s cute. You didn’t want her approval, so you ended up being her girlfriend.”

“Pretty much. When I came to school the next day with my hair loose and all natural, she put a note in my locker. And that’s how we started getting to know each other. Next thing I knew, we were kissing under the bleachers, which was…” Jaz blew out a harsh breath as she recalled their first make-out session. “Intense,” she concluded. “And that was that. We went to both the junior and senior proms together, which wasn’t all that easy for most gay couples even though it was the millennium, but our school was fine with it.”

“I love that – the rebel and the cheerleader fall in love, go to prom, and get married. It’s a classic trope, you know.”

Jaz let out a guffaw. “No, that’s not how it goes. The rebel always ends up riding off into the sunset on a motorcycle, which is probably for the best for both of them. Otherwise, I think he’d get bored and leave the heroine stranded with a bun in the oven.”

“Are you saying you’ve gotten bored with your heroine?”

“What?” Jaz shook her head. “No, not at all. But I think she’s gotten bored with me. Her life is all about work, work, work and we’ve lost whatever made us, well, us back then.”

“I’m sure she’s not bored with you. Jim works all the time, but he’s definitely not bored with me.” Alicia gave Jaz a sympathetic smile. “It’ll come back around, again, you know. Relationships are cyclical. Nothing ever stays the same, but nothing changes for every long, either.”

“That’s an oxymoron.”

“Only kind of.” Alicia draped her arm over Jaz’s shoulders and gave her a little shake. “Just keep doing what you’re doing with all the little treats and stuff. I think it’s great. If Jim would do that for me, I’d love it, you know? I mean, I’d definitely notice and he’d get lucky if you know what I mean.”

“But what if you did that for him? Would he feel the same way?”

Alicia chuckled, her body shaking with laughter. “Are you kidding? Most guys are blind to those kinds of gestures.”

“Is it that guys are blind or simply that all of us have different needs? Women are just as capable as men are of dismissing little acts of kindness and love. I’m sure it’s not a gender thing.”

“Oh, good point. I suppose since neither of you has the Y-DNA, that’s valid logic. Is that your way of telling me she’s not noticing the things you’re trying to do to let her know you love her?”

The sigh Jaz let out was lifted away by the breeze, but she knew the hunch of her shoulders was even more obvious. “She’s noticed most of it, but I feel like I’m inconveniencing her sometimes. Her reactions aren’t always positive.”

“Well, ten years is a pretty good amount of time to be married these days and sometimes complacency is more a part of that then we want to accept or realize. I don’t think it’s intentional, though. When I do something for Jim and he seems not to notice, I don’t take it personally, because it always comes back around somehow.”

Jaz nodded. “You keep talking about things coming back around, but how long does it take?”

“It depends. That’s the tricky thing. Plus, it’s not always the same kind of gesture, you know? Sometimes it’s not big or obvious, like when he takes out the trash.”

“Takes out the trash?” Now Jaz snorted. “Oh, that must make your heart go pitter-patter.”

“Hey. It does. It’s very romantic for him to deal with the nasty, stinky smells, instead of expecting me to just do it every day.” Alicia elbowed her until Jaz stopped rocking with laughter.

“So, right, I’m supposed to do what I’ve been doing and just wait for her to play along?”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, relationships are about a mutual give and take, but I wouldn’t recommend keeping score. My point is more about not giving up. You and Dani are a wonderful couple and all couples hit snags. Relationships are work. Blah blah blah. You know what I’m saying. I know work and life and all of that is hard, but the idea of you marrying Dani wasn’t just love – it was because you decided you were in it together. All of it and all in.”

Jaz looked down at the white gold band on her left finger and whispered, “We’re in it together. All of it and all in.”

Chapter 6

The photo album was full of beautiful pictures of the two of them. Even though so much was done digitally these days, they had insisted on having physical wedding and honeymoon photos. Jaz brought the album to her studio, selected a photo of her and Dani laughing together on a beach in Florida, scanned it into her computer, and then played with the image.

After she got the tones she wanted, she inserted the image onto a vintage postcard template and printed it on cardstock. The photo now looked like a vintage one from the 1950s, the tones slightly faded here and the saturation enhanced there. It was a gorgeous look, one Jaz tended to favor in her work.

She took a moment to admire the finished product and then wrote on the back of the postcard “Having a great time in life. Wish you were here. There’s no one I would rather be in it together with.” Then she placed the postcard inside a book she had purchased at the bookshop down the street. It was a title Dani had mentioned a few times and Jaz knew she really wanted to read it. When she got home, set the book on the pillow on Dani’s side of the bed.

For a moment, she stood back and looked at the bed, pondering what she had just created. She opened the book and brought the postcard to her office to photograph it. At the moment, she didn’t offer personalized paper crafts on her site, but she considered the idea. Some customers had asked about having something special created from digital photos and it certainly was fun to give her work that personal touch. She decided it was finally time to offer them on her site and this would make the perfect sample piece.

Her phone vibrated and she pulled it out of her pocket to check the notifications.

Everyone staying late tonight to work on The Man. Don’t wait up.

Jaz let out a sigh. The Man was Dani’s code name for the firm’s wealthiest, but also most-disliked, client. He treated them like they were at his beck and call like they should come scurrying to see him the moment he set foot on their marble floors, unannounced and full of himself. Jaz didn’t know how Dani dealt with people like that, but she supposed the trick was to remain cold and professional, and not take it personally.


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