"I can do this, right?" Taylor asked Torrey as she released Jessica from the car seat in the back of the Cherokee.
"You betchya!" Torrey smiled confidently up at her friend.
Oh God, Torrey what that smile does to me. Only for you, Little Bit...only for you.
Taylor took the nine-month-old baby from her mother's arms. Jessica was growing at quite a pace. At the rate she was going, it seemed as if she actually was Taylor's child. The dark-haired artist would lie on the floor with Jessica and roll a tiny plastic basketball in front of her. Teasing her mother, saying that by the time they let women in the NBA this one would be ready to play for the Lakers. Torrey would always stop what she was doing, walk into the room, and say it would be the Bulls or no one.
The two women walked through the church doors and down the stairs, Torrey leading the way. When they reached the basement there were a number of people sitting in folding chairs, some were milling about, visiting before the meeting got underway. A woman perhaps Taylor's age sat at a small folding table and motioned them over.
"Hi, I'm Eva, how are you folks tonight?" Eva said with a crooked smile.
"Just fine, Sister," Torrey answered holding out her hand to shake Eva's. "I'm Torrey, I talked with you on the phone this morning."
"Right, Torrey, and this one must be the angel responsible for the screaming I heard in the background." Eva replied indicating Jessica. "You must be Taylor. Nice to meet you."
"You too, Sister." Taylor responded nervously. After all, one doesn't give up twelve years of Catholic schooling overnight.
"Oh, please, just call me Eva. Nobody calls me Sister. Well, maybe my mom, but she only does it to impress the ladies at bingo." Eva laughed. "So, Taylor, you're gonna give us a try, huh?"
"Well, try is the operative word." Taylor responded. "I really don't know anything about this twelve step program, but I'm game."
"Excellent! That's just what I like to hear. It all starts with a will to want to change, you know. Torrey, why don't you take the baby from Taylor so she and I can go in the back for an informal chat. Is that okay with you, Taylor?"
Uhm, I guess so." Taylor replied. Her knees were doing everything but shaking together.
Once Eva had turned and walked away, assuming Taylor would follow, the artist turned to her roommate.
"Tor, I don't know if I can talk to a nun."
"It's okay. She's not exactly your run of the mill nun. Go ahead, Jess and I will be sitting out of the way waiting for you." Torrey said to her friend, watching as Taylor's tall figure retreated into the back offices.
"It's okay, Taylor, loosen up. You don't have to do anything you don't want to here." Eva said with a pat on the dark-haired woman's shoulders.
Taylor relaxed then, her shoulders losing a little bit of the tension they held. Eva offered her a cup of coffee and once the woman across from her started asking questions, the artist found herself opening up more than she thought she'd be able to. By the time they were through, Taylor found that she had revealed to this woman, things even Torrey didn't know about her.
Eva smiled to herself as she watched the tall dark-haired woman slip into a seat next to the small blonde. She'd seen a lot worse since she started working with this program, but it would be hard to come across a woman who wanted to kick the habit more than this one did. Eva liked it when they had someone to come in with them, someone who cared enough to help them become whole again. She could tell the tall woman was nearly ready to bolt, though. She looked like a scared rabbit, even though she was putting up a good front. This one was strong. She knew that if Taylor ran tonight, she'd never be back.
"Hey," Taylor said, slipping into the empty seat next to Torrey.
"Hey, yourself. How did it go?" Torrey asked.
"She's pretty nice," Taylor replied, wiping sweaty palms along her thighs.
Torrey knew that Taylor was scared. Her friend tried to hide it, but the taller woman always came down with sweaty palms when she was extremely nervous. Part of her could understand why the artist was fearful. Taylor believed in keeping everything locked up inside, only showing people what she wanted them to see. She was different with Torrey, but even still there was that smallest part of her that wouldn't give up control.
The meeting was half way through and Torrey had already learned a great deal about addiction, especially drug addiction. For casual, mild drug users it was almost the psychological addiction that was worse than the physical. She was also amazed to learn that even if you didn't have a problem with alcohol, the Narcotics Anonymous program demanded complete abstinence, from liquor as well as drugs. Out of the corner of her eye Torrey could see her friend trying to listen, but when some people stood to give personal testimonies, Taylor rose and whispered that she needed some air. She walked out of the building and Torrey was at a loss as to what she should do. Should she follow her...Would Taylor leave without her?
Ten minutes went by and Torrey reached down to grab Jessica's bag. Just as she was rising, Sister Eva came over and sat in Taylor's vacated seat.
"She'll be back," she whispered, placing a gentle hand on Torrey's arm.
"She's pretty scared about all of this. She's trying very hard, but I don't know what to do anymore. If I turn my head I'm afraid I'm just enabling her to continue taking the drugs." Torrey admitted.
"You've already done more than a lot of people might have. Now it's time to do the hardest thing. You have to let her decide if she wants to be free of her habit or not. You won't always be around every time she starts to feel this way. Taylor needs to find something, in her own heart and mind that's worth giving it all up for. When she does that, then she'll be able to fight it even when you're not around. If you go out to her now, she'll talk you into leaving and if she does that I have my doubts as to whether she'll ever be back. Just relax for a little while longer, Torrey. I'm betting that if you don't go looking for her, she'll come back in for you." Eva gave the small blonde a reassuring smile and moved to the back of the room.
Torrey tried to relax and let Eva's words sink in. The hardest choice in her young life was deciding to stay inside and wait for her friend to return. She hoped Taylor would realize that she would always be there for her, would always love her no matter what, but that the artist would have to take that scariest of all steps, that first one, on her own.
Another twenty minutes went by until Torrey felt the familiar presence next to her. She looked up into Taylor's contrite face that tried to mask her fear.
"Sorry, Little Bit…guess I kinda freaked out." She whispered.
"Don't worry about it, Stretch. I listened in case they give us a test at the end," she winked.
Taylor let out a chuckle and a sigh at the same time, afraid that she'd let her friend down.
"Thanks," she whispered into the young woman's ear.
"Yea, yea," Torrey said in mock exasperation. "Hey, take your turn with this girl. Your daughter is gaining a lot of weight!" Torrey teased the older woman.
"Oh, that hurts," Taylor responded, trying to keep her voice down.
"You still never forgave that nurse for the comment about your hips, did you?" Torrey whispered back as she handed Jessica to the woman next to her.
The two women only had to look at one another and suddenly they were trying to stifle their laughter. A raised eyebrow and a knowing smile from Sister Eva hushed the two. Yes, twelve years of Catholic schooling is a very hard notion to dispel.
Torrey watched as Taylor held and rocked Jessica against her. She purposely handed the baby to her friend knowing that Jessica seemed to have an almost calming effect on the artist. Besides, Taylor always felt she was being rewarded with something special when Torrey entrusted the baby into her care.
Jessica snuggled into the tall woman's embrace and promptly fell asleep. Taylor began to stroke the tiny baby's face while she listened to a woman on the stage speak. The woman said she grew up as a typical child of the sixties and by the time she was twenty, was a hopeless addict. What turned the woman's life around was when she found out she was pregnant. She realized that she no longer lived her life for just herself. She had someone she was responsible for and who would love her unconditionally, no matter what. The woman was celebrating ten years of sobriety and soon her child's ninth birthday.
Taylor looked down at the sleeping baby in her arms and realized that she too had the unconditional love of people who cared for her when nearly everyone else had given up on her. Wasn't she responsible for them? If something happened to her, Torrey might never finish school, worse, she would have to go groveling to her mother. A small tear escaped out of a sky blue eye.
Torrey was quick to notice the change in her friend's demeanor, and when Taylor bent her head down to Jessica's and placed a light kiss on her forehead, it nearly broke Torrey's heart. She didn't care what it would look like, she placed her arm along the back of Taylor's chair and rubbed the woman's back in a light circular motion. Leaning toward the taller woman, she rested her chin on Taylor's shoulder.
Taylor knew the instant that Torrey offered up her comforting touch, the artist had found her reasons. If there were ever days when Taylor found herself unworthy, all she would have to do is remember that she was staying clean for these two also. She didn't want Torrey to be ashamed of her and she wanted Jess to grow up thinking the girl could always count on her. She said to herself right then that she wanted to be the woman that was standing on that stage. She wanted to look back after all those years and know that she had done something good with her life. Most of all she wanted to know that she had done it all for the love and welfare of these two incredible women. One, the woman who would always own her heart, the other, the one who would always be the child of her heart.
Taylor stopped talking, noticing it had grown very quite. She stood in front of everyone and dug her hands into her pockets.
"I want all of you to do something," she began. "Take a look around you. Look at the people sitting next to you, in front and behind you." Everyone began looking around at one another.
"All of you have something in common." Taylor said. "And, no, I don't mean that." She said with a chuckle as the members of the audience laughed.
"You're all scared, scared senseless." She said flatly.
Jessica looked up to watch the older woman. She held the audience with rapt attention, her natural alto voice had the ability to command you to listen. When she said those last words, Jessica wondered how the woman could know what she was thinking.
"Most of you are so scared being in this room that you want to run, the other half of you are just too terrified to run. But, you're not alone here; we're all scared just like you. We're afraid that we won't be able to stop or we're afraid because we did stop. There are tons of things to be afraid of, trust me I have enough of them to know." Taylor said with a wry smile. Again most of the people laughed, but not one person got up to leave.
"I'll let you in on a secret. I know the trick to making that fear disappear." Taylor's voice lowered to nearly a whisper, some of the audience literally holding their breath for the older woman's words of wisdom.
"It's having people around you to care about you, to love you, just to be your friend. Those are the reasons you want to stay clean. A lot of us won't do it for ourselves, but we can't let anybody else do it for us. We can accept their help, though. Because, rest assured, there are going to be days when you need a friend, and I promise you, someone to hold your hand through a rough time can be priceless." Taylor walked off the stage and stepped down onto the floor.
"I can tell by looking out at you that a lot of you have someone with you that can already be that reason you decide to care. If you don't have a lover, or family member, or even a coworker to bring with you, don't think you're without friends. We've got a lot of people that work here that are just dying to make friends." Taylor said with a smile.
"Natalie," Taylor called to the back of the room. "Couldn't you use another friend?"
"Absolutely." The counselor shouted back up to the front of the room.
"So, there's no reason to leave here today with your fear. Let somebody help you help yourself, but you have to take the first step. And, if you don't believe it can happen," Taylor reached into her pocket and pulled out the numbered chip. She held the chip up to the light so everyone could see it. "I'm living proof that you can find reasons to stay clean. I have been for fifteen years."
The audience clapped their hands and Taylor returned their thanks with a warm smile before taking her seat next to Jessica.
"Wow," JT said under her breath.
"Is that a good wow or a bad wow?" Taylor asked.
"That's a wow, you should have your own infomercial." Jessica replied with a grin.
Taylor laughed out loud. The young girl's statement and the sound of her own laughter eased the tension she was feeling. Now if she could just get Jess to find her own reasons.
JT leaned against a back wall and watched as her mother's friend kneeled in front of a young girl. The youngster didn't seem to be much older than twelve or thirteen, with her baggy jeans, an oversized t-shirt, and a long sleeved flannel top, she looked like she was trying to play dress up. The two spoke in low tones, a woman who appeared to be the girl's mother sat alongside and ran her fingers lovingly through the girl's long brown hair. Jessica thought of her own mother and wondered what she was doing now and if she should call her.
The girl started crying and Taylor wiped away the tears from her cheeks with a gentle touch. The artist stood and put her arm around the girl, directing her to the table where Natalie sat.
"Nat, how about giving me an eight and a black marker?" Taylor asked.
Natalie searched in a box of chips and handed one over to the taller woman. Taylor flipped the chip over to its number side and began to write the on the chip, right next to the number.
"Corey, here has been clean for over eight hours." Taylor said.
"Excellent job, Corey, we're proud of you." Natalie responded encouragingly.
Corey sniffed and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her shirt, smiling she mumbled a thank you. Taylor twirled the chip through her fingers like a casino dealer. Corey's eyes lit up. Taylor held the chip out to the girl.
"You practice just like that." Taylor said, pulling a business card from her wallet and turning it over to write her cell phone number on the other side. "And, and if it starts to get too rough, you call me and we'll talk, okay?"
The girl nodded, still seeming a little in awe of the tall woman. Then the dark-haired woman stood, said something quietly to the young girl, and then gave Corey a very heartfelt hug. While Jessica watched this interaction between the young girl and the artist she suddenly realized that she missed her mother. As she continued to watch, she wished, for entirely selfish reasons, that Taylor and her mother had stayed together longer.
This time the silence in the car unnerved Taylor. Jessica hadn't said much since they left the meeting. The older woman wondered if hearing Taylor speak so honestly about her past upset the girl. She cleared her throat and it echoed oddly within the darkened vehicle.
"Taylor?" Jessica asked with her face turned toward the window of the car.
"Hhmm?" Taylor responded.
"You think it would be allright if I called my mom tomorrow?" JT questioned.
Taylor was just happy that the darkness inside the car hid her smile.
"Yea, I think she'd like hearing from you." The artist answered.
There wasn't much conversation after that. They arrived home and each woman headed straight for a hot shower and bed. JT looked around for a few minutes and finally found the artist wrapped in her robe sipping a mug of tea on the patio overlooking the cliffs. Her head resting against the back of the chaise lounge she sat in, her eyes slightly closed.
"Hey, I'm turning in." JT said from the door.
Taylor opened one eye and smiled at the girl. JT wasn't quite sure what to say. She wanted to say so much, but none of the words seemed to come to her. Finally she turned to go back inside and stopped in the open doorway.
"Taylor, What were your reasons...The things that made the fear go away?" She asked without turning around.
Taylor placed her mug on the small table beside the chair and leaned her head back, closing her eyes once again.
"I thought you figured it out. It was you and your mom." Taylor said barely above a whisper.
JT nodded as if the answer made perfect sense to her. Then the young girl said goodnight and was gone inside the house.
Taylor waited a few minutes until she was sure Jessica was in her room before she allowed the silent tears to spill down her cheeks. It still hurt so much, even after fifteen years the pain was as fresh as if it happened moments ago. Her arms ached with a pain that was as real as the desire that still burned hot within her. Her heart grieved for a love that would always be unrequited.
Jessica woke up the next day feeling pretty good. She didn't know why, but she didn't want to question it. The first thought on her mind was that she wanted to talk to her mother today. It was watching Taylor interact with Corey last night that started her thinking about she and her mother's relationship.
Jessica spent so many of her growing up years being angry and resentful of her mother, and for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why. It wasn't like Torrey was hurtful, selfish or mean, on the contrary, the small blonde was a completely loving, caring, and nurturing mother. The woman had gone out of her way, made so many self-sacrificing gestures for her daughter that JT lost count. All the lengths her mother went to. Did she really deserve such love?
Jessica was scrubbing her face in the shower by the time the answer came to her. Why hadn't she taken the time before to think like this? She rinsed her face and knew it was a lot easier to think clearly when you weren't drunk or stoned. There were a lot of times when she got high that things seemed clearer to her and she assumed it was an effect of the grass she was smoking. That kind of clarity never lasted, though. It never seemed to make sense. Now as she stood under the warm water of the shower she realized that persistence of vision was relative to where you were at the time.
Now the answer to all her anger toward her mother seemed to open itself up to her like the petals of a flower. Her mother was a wonderful person, just as wonderful as Taylor remembered her. She loved Jessica more than the young girl thought she could ever understand, but JT never thought she deserved that kind of love. It was just something in her that started at a young age. She never thought she was deserving of that kind of love. She certainly wasn't worth all the trouble that Torrey went to. Didn't her mother understand that?
It dawned on the young woman that her mother was a pretty smart lady. Would she have kept wasting her time on her daughter if she knew she was a lost cause? Look at Evelyn. Torrey never spoke to her mother, saying it was a falling out of sorts, even though they both lived within minutes of each other now. Torrey gave up her mother and wrote her off as forgotten. Why didn't Torrey want to do that to Jessica? So, maybe the answer was that Jess wasn't the loser she always thought she was.
She rinsed her mouth over the sink and still held the toothbrush in one hand as she examined her reflection in the mirror. She tried to think of things that made her worth something in another's eyes.
"Well, I'm pretty good looking and I've got cool eyes." She pointed to her image in the mirror with the end of the toothbrush.
"I can draw pretty well, uhm...do a cartwheel, make pancakes and macaroni and cheese, use a computer..." She listed her qualifications aloud.
Jessica frowned at herself in the mirror. All these years, all the hell I put my mom through, pissing my own life away, and why? All because I actually resented my mom for loving me. Like I held it against her because I thought she should see that I wasn't worthy of her love. Geez, Jess, you really fucked this part of your life up.
In moments JT's frown turned into a crooked smile. She would call her mom right now and tell her what a great mom she's really been. With that decision the young woman quickly dressed and made her way into the kitchen. She found the new coffee maker they purchased yesterday and set it up, filling the filter with green tea leaves. She ran back to the hall to see what time it was, since the maker wouldn't brew until the time was set. The Grandfather clock near the living room said 5:15. JT was amazed. She couldn't remember when she'd ever gotten up this early without an alarm. Guess what mom said was true. If you get to bed at a decent hour, you can get up. Geez, I'm gonna hate it if she's always gonna be right now.
Once she had the tea brewing she knew she couldn't call her mother. There was at least an hour's time difference between California and Illinois, two because of daylight savings time, but 7:15 was still way too early to wake the famous author. Jessica had no idea what to do at five o'clock in the morning, she rarely even saw that hour unless she was coming home. She was kind of hungry, though. She got an idea and she hoped Taylor would be allright with it.
Taylor awoke to a smell that reminded her even more of the woman she'd spent most of the night dreaming about. It smelled like someone was actually cooking, and unless her mother was here for a visit, Jess must have gotten inventive. She was afraid of what she would see so she gave up the idea of heading for the bathroom first and sauntered out to the kitchen.
"Morning," Jess said with a smile.
"Morning yourself, what have you got going there?" Taylor asked.
"Bacon is frying now and I'm going to start the pancakes in a few minutes. Do you like pancakes?"
"I don't know," Taylor responded with a chuckle, "I haven't had them in years. It all smells pretty good, though."
Taylor poured herself a cup of the hot tea. "Do I have time for a shower?"
"Sure, go for it." Jessica replied.
Taylor made her way back to her bathroom and turned the shower stall's faucet on to warm up the water. She took another sip of tea and placed the mug on the vanity. She smiled to herself, thinking how easy it was to become domesticated again.
"So is today a holiday or what?" Taylor asked, sitting down to the table and shaking wet hair from her eyes. Jessica had made enough pancakes for a small army, bacon, and orange juice.
"I would have made coffee too, but I didn't have a clue how much to use. Does there have to be a reason? I mean, can't it just be thanks for everything you're doing for me?" Jessica answered sincerely.
Taylor continued to stare at the girl, one eyebrow rising up to disappear beneath her ebony bangs.
Jessica knew when she was beat. "Okay, you win." The young woman said and related the story of how she had risen before the sun, not realizing how early it was. She also threw in the fact that her mother had been right about how getting enough sleep would let you wake up earlier.
"Don't you hate it when your mom's right all the time?" JT finished.
"We're in absolute agreement there, but the longer you live the more you will find that statement to be true. Trust me, it can be unnerving at times." Taylor agreed.
By the time they had finished the meal, both women were more than full. Taylor was amazed at the amount of food the young girl could put away.
"Jess, this was great, thanks. I haven't had anyone cook for me aside from my mother in a long time. And, if you don't mind me saying it, you have an appetite like your mother's. If I ate the way you two did I'd be as big as a house."
Jessica grinned. "Yea, the Chinese place loves to get our carry out business. Don't get too used to it, though. I only know how to cook two things, pancakes and macaroni and cheese. I sure wish I knew how to make that pot roast my mom always fixed in the winter time."
"Yea," Taylor agreed. "With all the vegetables cut up with it."
"Yea," JT added. "I think we should have gotten that cookbook yesterday." She finished wistfully.
"I think you're right." She laughed. "You can call your mom now if you want, she should be up by now." Taylor said consulting the sport watch on her wrist. "I'll get out of your hair, on one condition."
Jessica looked suspiciously at the older woman.
"Let me look at your sketch books." Taylor whispered.
Jessica smiled and walked off in the direction of her bedroom. She came back with about a half dozen small sketch pads and laid them on the table in front of the artist.
"Just don't expect too much, okay?" JT asked nervously.
"Don't worry, I have no expectations." Taylor poured one more cup of tea and moved to the patio doors. "I'll be outside if you need anything. Tell your mom I said hi." Taylor said as she closed the door behind her.
Jessica grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle on the wall and paused. She wondered if she ought to plan out what she wanted to say. She finally decided that playing it by ear would work better. She quickly punched in the numbers that she knew by heart.
Her mother's voice answered on the second ring.
"Hey, mom." JT said nervously.
"Jess? Honey, are you okay?" Torrey asked in alarm.
"No, mom, it's okay. I'm doing fine. I just wanted to call you and, you know, let you know I got here okay and say hi."
"I'm so glad you did, Jess." Torrey replied realizing that Taylor probably made the girl call. "Is everything going allright so far?"
"Oh, yea. Taylor's pretty cool. I mean I've managed to piss her off a couple times, but she's fair, ya know? You should see this house, mom."
With that Jessica began a descriptive narrative about the house and Dana Point. She told her mother about everything from buying an art table at Danny's to eating at a deli called Simon's. Torrey smiled at the memory.
"I could kill for a Simon Special." Torrey said.
"Oh, mom those are so disgusting. Taylor ate one and said you ate two of them when you were here when I was a baby."
Torrey laughed at her daughter's comment. "So, tell me more."
Jessica just kept going. She couldn't remember a time when she'd chattered away with her mom like this. Actually Torrey couldn't either and the writer's greatest fear was realized. Her daughter's problems were because of her. Suddenly Torrey became quiet and Jessica had to ask a couple of times if she was still there.
"How are you getting along with Taylor?" Torrey asked, but to JT, her mother's voice sounded strange.
Jessica looked outside onto the patio love seat. Taylor was looking at the young girl's drawings, occasionally sipping from her mug, her bare feet tucked up under her legs. At first Jessica began to sing the artist's praises, but she stopped short, as she understood why her mother's voice sounded strained.
"You know, Taylor really is great, I mean, I know why you were such good friends and she makes a pretty good second mom, but...well, she's not you, mom." JT could tell her mother had started to cry and it pulled painfully at her heart.
"Mom...I went to an AA meeting with Taylor last night. I think it's really going to help me." JT admitted.
"I'm so proud of you, Jess," Torrey said softly, "That takes a lot of courage. I know you'll do well."
"Well, I wanted to call you today because...well, I wanted you to know what a great mom I think you are."
Torrey couldn't stop the tears that took over. Relief at her daughters words flooded through her.
"Oh, honey, it's okay. I'm crying because I'm so happy." Torrey tried to reassure her daughter.
"If you say so." JT responded. "Not sure I get why you would cry if you're happy, though."
"Jess, my greatest wish for you is that someday something happens to make you so happy that you cry. It's the only way you'll know how I'm feeling right now."
Jessica continued to share some of the things she'd discovered in the last two days. The young woman never thought she would ever hear pride in her mother's voice over her. She thought it was the greatest sound in the world. She had her reasons now. If she ever thought giving up her addictions for herself wasn't a good enough reason to keep going, she now had two other reasons; her two moms.
"I miss you, mom." JT whispered into the phone.
"Honey, I miss you too, more than you'll ever know." Torrey responded in a loving voice.
"Hey, Taylor says hi. Do you want to talk to her?"
"Uhm, yea that would be great."
Torrey meant to say no, but the thought of hearing the low alto of Taylor's voice took control of her decision.
"Hey, Jess, before you go I want you to know I love you." Torrey said.
"I love you too, mom." JT said. The young woman thought it was probably the first time she'd said those words to her mother in a very long time.
Jessica opened the door to the outside patio just as Taylor looked up.
"Mom wants to talk to you." JT said as she handed the artist the phone.
"How did it go?" Taylor asked as she held her hand over the receiver.
Jessica gave her a thumbs-up sign and a smile. Just as she turned to go back inside she thought of something she had wanted to ask her mother.
"I forgot, let me talk to her again when you're done okay?" JT asked.
Taylor nodded her head and watched Jessica walk back inside and begin cleaning the kitchen of their breakfast dishes.
"Hey, Little Bit." Taylor said into the phone.
"Hey, Stretch." Torrey answered. "I only have one question for you."
Taylor's eyes narrowed as she wondered what Jessica told her mother. "Yesss?" she drawled.
"Who was that girl I just talked to and what have you done with my daughter?" Torrey asked in amazement.
Taylor leaned back her head and laughed. The sound was a balm to the soul for two women whose hearts were hurting for the same reasons.
Nearly an hour later Taylor walked back into the kitchen.
"Here you wanted to talk to your mom again?" Taylor asked, holding the phone out.
"Yea," JT replied reaching for the telephone. "Hey, mom? How do you make that pot roast of yours?"
"You and mom talked for quite a while. Did I come up at all?" JT fished for information.
"Believe it or not, squirt, your mom and I were having conversations long before you were even around, but no we didn't talk about you. I promised, remember?" Taylor responded. "Oh, wait she did ask me one thing about you."
"Yea?" JT asked.
"She wanted to know if I'd planted some kind of pod under your bed and you'd changed into an alien." Taylor said with a straight face.
"She did not!" JT finally said as she watched the large toothy grin break across the artist's face.
Taylor laughed as she went outside to retrieve the young girl's sketchbooks.
"Jess, I'm very impressed, and I think you know me well enough by now to know that I don't impress easily. These are very, very good."
"Really?" JT sounded stunned.
"Would you stop drawing if I said I was just being nice?" Taylor asked.
"No, probably not." JT responded honestly.
"Good, because I'm not. You've got a great deal of talent Jess, but talent won't always be enough. There are a lot of talented artists out there. You have to work damned hard, every single day to achieve your goal if you want to be doing this for a living." Taylor lectured.
"Have you ever thought about doing something with your art for a living...ever think of going to college?" Taylor asked as she stood next to the girl.
Jessica looked up into the taller woman's cerulean gaze and gave a wry smile.
"Frankly, Taylor, the only thing on my mind so far today is how to get through the whole day without screwing something up." JT replied.
Taylor laughed at the girl's response and the serious look on her face. She put her arm around the girl's shoulders and pulled her toward the art studio.
"Well, let's just see if we can help you with your dilemma." The artist said with a smile.
Torrey was back in Chicago feeling alone most days, but clung to the hope that it would all become right in the end. That belief had gotten her through some of the roughest periods in her life and it was never more important for her to believe than right now. Her writing still had not come around, but that too she gave up to the fates to decide.
She toyed with the idea of teaching again. There was a time when she was an Assistant professor in English Literature for the University, downtown, when she and Jess first moved to Chicago. Now, she had had three offers for full time faculty work. The University here wanted her to head up their English Literature Department, as well as her alma mater offering her the same position. The one that tempted her the most was the University of California. It would be a definite life altering decision and she wasn't in any frame of mind to make it yet, until she knew what would happen with Jessica. Then there would be the fact that she would live within driving distance from Taylor. Yes, the woman that still held her heart so completely was single now, but what if she should finally meet someone and settle down. Could Torrey's heart take that?
A lot of pain and loneliness was dispelled for the writer when she answered her door on Valentine's Day. The local florist delivered two dozen white roses, her favorite. Each dozen had been arranged in a separate vase with a card attached. When she opened the two cards she immediately recognized the hurried scrawl of her daughter and the precise, angular characters of Taylor's handwriting. She fingered the jade heart around her neck, remembering this same holiday many years ago. Each card in her hand bore the same message.
How in the world did you ever live
with this woman?!?
Happy Valentine's Day
The laughter those cards caused carried her through until the next time she heard their voices on the telephone, and just like walking, she put one foot in front of the other and kept going each and every day.
Days quickly turned into weeks. Taylor and Jessica both had good and bad days. Taylor would sometimes get silent and brooding as she worried about a new project or a piece she was currently trying to finish for the show. Jessica had days when she never thought about drugs or alcohol at all, then there were the days when it would all come crashing in on her. When that happened, Taylor would drop everything to spend additional time with the girl.
In the meantime, Jessica had earned hero status in the eyes of Corey, the young girl from their Tuesday night group. Taylor had Corey's mom bring her by the studio and they would all go down to the beach or out for a sandwich, sometimes a movie. Even Jessica had to admit that she found a friend in the youngster and soon began to overlook the case of hero worship Corey suffered from.
On one occasion Corey's mother dropped the girl off and Taylor took the two younger girls to Anaheim for the day. It was the first time either of them had been to Disneyland and they had the time of their young lives. Jessica even tried to get Taylor to go on one of the newer daredevil rides with her and Corey.
"Come on, Taylor. Look, see it's not that bad." Jessica pleaded.
Taylor looked up and up as a car filled with strapped in passengers climbed higher into the sky, then the artist watched as the car plunged straight toward the earth at a dizzying speed. Twenty years ago she would have been the first one in line, but now the only thing the dark-haired woman could do was groan.
"I'd like my lunch to stay in my stomach where I put it, thanks. I'll just have a nice cold drink and wait for you two over there." She indicated a shaded park area.
As she watched the two girls walk off to wait in line, she did indeed feel a little old. She was only forty and felt wonderful, physically. She felt old, however, when she realized it had been sixteen years since she and Torrey visited this park. Jessica was a little over a year old on that trip to San Diego. The dark-haired artist looked back with regret because it had been the last time she and Torrey ever went anywhere together. It was only a long weekend, but since Taylor was representing her company at a convention in Los Angeles on Friday, they thought the perfect way to spend the rest of the weekend would be to visit Jean Kent.