"Taylor, come on, wouldn't you like to look a little more butch? Let's take it real short, it'll look great, the women will love it." The hairdresser said.
"I cry too much to be butch." The artist deadpanned, raising an eyebrow filled with intimidation at the young woman.
Adrian took the hint and both women left the shop looking and feeling a little better.
"You're daughter's turning into a beautiful young woman," Adrian said to Taylor before they left.
Taylor didn't explain; she simply smiled and agreed.
The drive home after the funeral was as long as any Taylor ever made. She worried that Jess wasn't talking. Like her mother, the girl was a veritable chatterbox and when she was silent that usually meant something was wrong.
"I think I'd like to see mom, would you mind?" Jessica asked.
"No, Jess, of course not. You know it's almost time to go back. Your mom only wanted you to stay out here for six months." Taylor approached the subject she'd been dreading.
"Do you want me to go?" JT asked quickly.
"No, Jess, you can live with me whenever you'd like for as long as you like. I just meant that you'll have to talk to your mom about whatever you decide you want to do." Taylor answered.
"I feel bad, guilty, you know? I don't think mom's gonna like what I want to do. Besides, part of me feels like I'm being unfair to her. I mean, she lives with all my shit for so many years and now that I know how to act like a human being I'm going to take off on her." Jessica replied solemnly.
Taylor chuckled at the young woman's assessment. "Yea, I can see where you'd be a little torn, but your mom can be a very understanding woman, Jess. She knows that this is your life to live, not hers. I guess the only advise I can give you is to make the time you do have with your mom, pleasant. Show her that you've grown up and that you don't act like a complete ass anymore." Taylor finished with a smile at the girl.
"Thanks, Tay," JT grinned at the artist. "I can always count on you to make sure my ego doesn't get out of hand."
"That's what I'm here for." Taylor returned the sly grin. "So what have you decided to do with your life?"
"I want to go to school. I have the credits just not the grades. If I can talk mom into paying for college then I won't have to depend on miserable SAT's to get a scholarship. I could always get a job too, that might help." Jessica explained.
"Sounds like a good plan." Taylor replied proudly. "Why don't you hold off on the money end and let me talk to your mom first, okay?" Taylor said, realizing that now she was going to have to talk her extremely proud friend into taking the money she had been depositing in Jessica's college fund. "So where's it gonna be?"
"I've narrowed it to Cal Arts or U of C in Irvine. Your friend Kenny seemed to think they would be the best." JT answered.
Taylor nodded remembering the day they visited Kenny at the studios where he now worked. She never thought the young man responsible for the one tattoo she had, would now be an animator for a major studio in California.
"When do you want me to make a reservation for you to go back and for how long?" Taylor asked.
"Uhm, I was kind of thinking it would be kinda cool if mom could come out here. That is if it wouldn't whack you out or anything." JT said cautiously.
Taylor took a deep sigh. Could she handle it? Hell, she couldn't expect Jessica to stay out here and never have her mother visit. God, she wouldn't bring a date with her, would she?
"You sure your mom isn't seeing anyone, Jess?" Taylor asked nervously.
"Tay, I told you, mom never dates. Look I won't ask her if it will make you uncomfortable at all. I just thought that if she came out here and saw everything, the way you and I get along, and then maybe we could visit the University while she's here, well, that maybe she'd feel more at ease with the whole thing. You know she loves California. She's always talking about coming back here some day. Hey wouldn't that be cool, if we all lived here?" JT said enthusiastically.
Taylor looked over at the young woman. "I never knew she felt that way. I know she liked it when we came out, but I didn't know it was someplace she'd actually live. I wouldn't let your hopes soar too high on that last part though, Jess. It's kind of hard on me sometimes, just being in the same room with your mom knowing that someday she'll find someone she loves."
"I know, Tay, I'm sorry. I don't want to see you or mom unhappy. You sure you can handle this?"
"Hey, sometimes it's hard, but most of the time I love being around your mom. She's the best friend I have, aside from you, and I love her dearly. As a matter of fact I can't wait to see your mom again." Taylor smiled and she surprised herself by actually believing what she said.
"Great!" JT smiled broadly. "I'll call her as soon as we get home."
"But, mom, it'll be so much fun. You said you'd love to come back out her for a vacation sometime." Jessica pleaded.
"I know I did, honey, but this sounds like it could be a bad time. Your friend is gone and I'm sure it's not an upbeat kind of time, Taylor's show is coming up and she probably doesn't want me underfoot while she's trying to work."
Torrey desperately racked her own brain to come up with plausible excuses as to why coming to California would be a bad idea, but try as she might, the best she could come up with were a pathetic few.
"Mom, It's not like that. Tay was the one who said she can't wait to see you!" JT tried attacking from a different point.
Torrey chuckled when she heard that name from Jessica's own voice.
"What are you laughing about?" Jessica asked, slightly confused.
"You used to call Taylor that when you were little. I'm surprised you remembered." Torrey replied.
"Actually, I didn't remember, it just sort of felt right, you know? I wonder why she didn't say anything about it?" Jessica pondered.
"She probably didn't want to embarrass you, honey." Torrey responded.
"So, Mom...what about it? I really want you to come out here, you'll love Tay's place, I know it.
The truth was that Torrey did indeed want to see her daughter and Taylor in the environment that Jess had obviously grown fond of. She ached to hold her daughter in her arms and a different kind of ache pulled at her at the thought of seeing Taylor again. She really couldn't fight it because she simply didn't want to.
"Okay, babydoll...just tell me where and when." Torrey said as she swore she could feel JT's grin across the phone line. "And, honey, you tell Taylor that if she leaves me waiting at the airport like she did in Maine, I'll have her hide."
Torrey hung up the phone and began making mental lists of what she would need to pack. Jess wanted her to stay for a couple of weeks, so that meant at least two suitcases and at least one carryon. She swept into her bedroom and perused the items in her walk in closet. They were suitable for everyday wear in Chicago and the occasional party, very East coast, but she realized that she was about to see the woman she still loved after an absence of fourteen years. This definitely called for a shopping trip.
Torrey walked into the bathroom, turning on the shower faucets. She paused in front of the mirror over the sink and her hand went up to her short blonde locks.
"Oh, my God! Why did I get my haircut now?" She yelled at her image. It was a good cut and practical now that she went and worked out and swam everyday at the health club, but what would Taylor think? Good Lord, Torrey, you're acting like you've got a chance with the woman. You look great and you know it, you're just going out there to see your daughter and your best friend. You can do this. Now straighten up and don't worry so much.
Torrey leaned back in the reclining chair, her eyes closing slightly as she sipped on a mug of warm tea. After flying first class only once, ten years ago, the writer swore she would never travel any other way. After so many years of jetting to different parts of the country, you would have thought a fear of flying would no longer be in her repertoire, though. It didn't put her in a panic, but she never quite gave up the thought that this could be the one, her time.
"Excuse me," a voice across the aisle said softly.
Torrey raised green eyes to a woman with blonde hair and smiling eyes.
"I know you probably get this a lot, but are you Torrey Gray?"
Torrey displayed a sunny smile that was, in a way, her trademark. Truth be known, it was the only way she knew how to smile. Yes, she'd heard the line for years, but secretly, she never tired of it.
"Yes, I am." She replied softly.
Two hours later the women were side by side, discussing everything from daughters to Maine. When the flight attendant announced they would be landing in a few minutes, the stranger was tempted to give the writer her card. She enjoyed the woman's laughter and cheerful personality. She had heard all the rumors, but always wondered if they could be true, was Torrey Gray gay? The blonde smiled back over at the writer and decided she'd wait until they landed and see if she could entice the woman out for lunch, and later, possibly more.
Taylor pushed herself from against the wall and paced impatiently in front of the monitors that flashed incoming flight information. She consulted her watch then walked back to resume her vigil by the wall. When she looked down, Jessica's silent green eyes were smiling up at her.
"Geez, Tay, are you gonna be okay?" JT asked with a snort.
"Why?" Taylor growled.
"Well, you look like you're having a min-breakdown for one thing." Jessica laughed.
"Don't laugh at me, squirt. It's a long walk home." Taylor said, arching an eyebrow for effect.
Jessica laughed again. Like her mother before her, the artist's intimidating stare had little effect on the young woman.
"Don't worry, Tay. After all, it's just mom." Jessica said with a hint of understanding.
"I know." Taylor gave a little half smile. Taylor seemed unable to make Jess understand that it being Torrey was the problem.
The passengers on the flight from Chicago began to disembark the plane. Jessica made a motion to go forward, but Taylor stayed back, not moving.
"Why don't you go and, you know, and I'll just hang back here." Taylor uncharacteristically stammered.
Jessica smiled slightly, not even guessing herself at how much this first meeting after fifteen years meant to the tall artist.
Jessica spotted her mother right away, even with the new haircut. Taylor hung back and watched as mother and daughter met in a tearful, yet delighted reunion.
"Oh God, Jess, you look wonderful." Torrey said with tears in her eyes. She hugged her daughter close and kissed her cheek. "Your hair, it looks great on you." She said, running her fingers through the girl's hair.
Torrey looked up at her daughter and saw a light in the girl's eyes that hadn't been there six months ago. Her green eyes sparkled brightly and she shared a hug with her mother that Torrey thought she would never feel again.
Torrey simply gazed at her daughter for a few silent moments. The writer never thought the day would arrive when her rebellious young girl would look at her with anything but contempt. Now, Torrey heard the pride in her child's voice and saw the love in her eyes. She promised herself she would spend the rest of her life repaying Taylor for this gift. With that thought the writer felt her stomach do a slight flip in anticipation of seeing her old friend again.
"Jess, where's Taylor? Is she with you?" Torrey asked.
JT nodded and motioned with her eyes to the figure that began walking toward them.
Taylor didn't realize she had been holding her breath until the air was knocked from her lungs by the sight of the small blonde. Torrey looked absolutely perfect in white slacks and a pale green blouse under the white linen jacket that had the sleeves casually pushed up to her elbows. Taylor was more surprised at the new hairstyle. She finally did what she threatened to do for years. The casual cut, soft wisps of blonde hair falling loosely over her ears and nearly into her eyes caused the petite writer to look sexier than ever in Taylor's eyes.
Fifteen years of wanting made itself known as every nerve ending in the artist's body felt like it had been shocked with an electric jolt of fire. She melted at the sight as she watched Torrey laugh and smile at her daughter and when she saw the woman raise her eyes to where she stood, she couldn't stop the goofy grin that she was sure appeared on her face.
Torrey looked over to where her daughter indicated and fell into pools of cobalt light. Taylor was already giving her that lopsided grin she seemed to reserve only for Torrey, as she walked toward the two women.
Jessica took a step back as Taylor approached. Torrey let loose of her daughter's waist and stood before the taller woman. Without hesitation Torrey slipped her arms around the artist's waist, reaching up on her tiptoes, she kissed the dark-haired woman's lips. They had kissed like this before, but Taylor was always the one to initiate it. The artist was shaken when Torrey established the intimate contact. Torrey felt the warmth of Taylor's embrace, then pulled back to look into the taller woman's incredible eyes.
"You look great, Stretch." Torrey smiled.
Taylor reached down and gave another squeeze to the smaller woman's shoulders.
"As beautiful as ever." Taylor whispered in her ear.
It was then that the blonde Torrey had been chatting with on the plane disembarked. If the woman ever thought she had a chance with the petite author with the jade green eyes, all those thoughts were squashed as she looked over at the small woman being greeted by two other women. It was the taller of the two dark-haired women that caught the blonde's eye. The way they looked into one another's eyes, punctuated by the kiss they shared in the middle of the airport, had the blonde turning away with a sigh of regret. Well, at least I know the rumors were true, she said to herself as she walked away.
I can't believe that neither one of you has said a thing about my haircut." Torrey stated as they began to move to the luggage area.
"It's nice, mom." JT said.
"Oh, yeah." Taylor added. The artist didn't dare tell her how gorgeous she really looked.
"Well, judging by that thoroughly underwhelming response, I think I'll let it grow out." Torrey laughed.
"Oh, no mom, really you look great." JT said with more conviction.
"Uhm, yeah, beautiful, Tor." Taylor tried not to stare.
"Actually, really stunning." Jess said, stopping to admire her mother.
"Absolutely breathtaking." Taylor added, taking her cue from JT.
Torrey looked between Taylor and her daughter as the two exchanged knowing grins.
"Oh, I can see I'm going to be outnumbered with you two together." Torrey responded.
They couldn't help but laugh at the smaller woman. Torrey placed an arm easily around her daughter's waist and slipped her own hand within the artist's callused one. They walked along that way, looking for the entire world, like a family. Taylor held on to the small hand held within her own and relished the sweet contact. Torrey made no move to pull away and the artist knew she wasn't going to be the one to extinguish the familiar touch. They picked up Torrey's luggage and in moments Taylor returned with the Explorer, pulling in front of the airport to pick up her friend.
Taylor jumped out of the car to store the luggage in the back, opening the passenger side door for Torrey to get in. Jessica watched with a hidden smile at the way the two women treated one another. In her heart the young girl knew that Taylor would be attentive and charming with her mother. They moved like two people who had long grown used to the other's moves. When Taylor opened the door for JT's mother, Torrey slipped in without saying a word as if this courtesy were extended to her by someone everyday.
"So, where are you two taking me for lunch, I'm starving." Torrey said to break the silence.
"You...starving? What a surprise." Taylor said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
Before the artist knew it, Torrey slapped her thigh.
"Five minutes I've been here and you're already abusing me." Torrey said with a mock air of disdain.
"That's because you make it so easy, Little Bit." Taylor replied with a laugh, which earned the artist another smack.
"How about Simon's? Unless you're in the mood for something fancier?" Taylor asked.
"Oh, a Simon Special, yes!" Torrey leaned her head back, enjoying the idea.
"Gross," Jessica said from the back seat. "I'm gonna have to watch both of you eat those disgusting sandwiches, aren't I?" Jessica groaned. Secretly the girl was already ecstatic at the way the two women were getting along.
"This place is wonderful, Taylor, I absolutely love it." Torrey said to the woman seated on the couch next to her. "You've done very well for yourself, I'm proud of you." She added.
The two women sat talking late into the night in front of the fireplace. Even though it was officially summer, the evening was cool giving the perfect excuse to light a fire. Jessica had long ago gone to bed. The young woman wasn't quite as tired as she pretended to be, but she knew it would be good for the two older women to be able to spend some time together.
Taylor enjoyed the closeness of Torrey, the way she smiled and teased, the way she touched the artist's arm to make a point. Taylor was realizing, with each passing moment that this was no longer the young girl she cared for and protected for so many years. That eighteen-year-old was gone and a grown woman existed in her place. The artist never grasped that from her writings. Even while reading Torrey's letters, Taylor still pictured the college girl that broke into tears at the slightest provocation. Now Torrey spoke with an air of confidence, the look in her eye, the way she held her body all combined to attract Taylor to her in a way that the artist never felt before.
Torrey, in the meantime, felt her breath catch in her throat each time that she looked up to take in the woman who sat beside her. Taylor's beauty certainly hadn't diminished at all in fifteen years. If anything, Torrey wondered how she could have desired the twenty two year old girl, when this sexy forty year old woman was coaxing her stomach into some major acrobatics. The lines around the artist's mouth and eyes were set a little deeper, but the sapphire orbs still sparkled when she spoke, filling with an electric blue fire when she talked of her art. Clouding over to a steel gray when she was hurt or worried as they did now.
Taylor found herself talking to Torrey as if no time at all had gone by. Her fears and her dreams were all revealed to the green-eyed woman who was always so good at slipping under the artist's defenses and seeing the vulnerable woman that Taylor hid from the rest of the world.
Taylor found herself talking about Corey to her old friend, watching Torrey's eyes grow misty at the thought of the young girl and her troubled life. Tears became an actuality for the young author as she envisioned a mother trying to cope with the death of her only daughter to an addiction that the mother couldn't defeat.
Jessica hadn't been able to fall asleep yet and the girl wandered out into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of ice water. She heard the low murmur of voices from the living room and was pleasantly surprised that her mother and Taylor would still be up talking. She passed by the hall that led down into the living room and sat on the stairs that led to the lower level of the house. She told herself that she would leave immediately if she heard anything at all about herself, that way she wouldn't feel like she was eavesdropping. Actually, the only thing the young woman wanted was to hear the voices of the two women she loved most. She smiled to herself, being able to distinguish the low alto of Taylor's voice as compared to the soft melodic tones of her mother's. Finally Jessica listened as Taylor opened up to Torrey about Corey and the responsibility the artist felt she had to the youngster, letting her slip through her fingers.
"Stretch," Torrey whispered, gently wiping the tears from Taylor's cheeks, "You can't be responsible for everyone. Remember what sister Eva used to say? When you're standing out in the snow, you can only catch as many snowflakes as want to fall on your tongue. She was such a young girl and it breaks my heart too, but you can't make all the teenagers in the world your personal responsibility. That's too much for anyone."
Jessica listened as she heard Taylor's fears and insecurities for the first time. Taylor said a lot of the same things that Jessica herself felt, Torrey responding with many of the things Taylor already said to JT.
"I guess it hit me kind of hard, having Jess here now." Taylor explained to Torrey. The artist ran her fingers through her hair, leaning her elbow on the back of the couch, near Torrey's head. "I didn't know how attached I would grow to Jess in such a short time. I didn't realize how much I love her, Tor, and what I would ever do if the same thing happened to her." Taylor's voice broke and Torrey realized how much the artist had been holding in since the young girl's death. Taylor was being strong for Jess, but had no one to comfort her and the artist's pain was so close to the surface Torrey knew it wouldn't take much to bring it out.
She leaned closer to the dark-haired woman, catching the familiar scent of Opium on her skin. Torrey wrapped strong arms around the artist's shoulders and gently kissed Taylor's forehead. She felt Taylor's body war with itself, tensing before realizing that she was safe in arms that wouldn't let her fall.
"It's okay, honey. You can let go now." Torrey whispered.
The ragged sob that came from Taylor's chest caused an ache in Jessica's own heart. She never realized the stoic woman was hurting so much. She heard Taylor's weeping and the murmurs of her mother's voice and realized what her mother didn't. That Taylor hurt for a lot of reasons her mother didn't know about.
Jessica swallowed the last of her drink and made her way back to her bedroom. She felt like she was intruding on something very private between these women, something that had nothing to do with want or desire, but had everything to do with love and friendship.
"Torrey, honey, wake up. It's after three, do you want to go to bed?" Taylor asked the sleeping woman lying mostly on top of her.
Sometime in the night the two women fell asleep on the couch, the fire burning down to glowing embers. Now, Taylor's body was mostly being used as a pillow by her old friend, the small blonde's leg draped over her thighs.
"Uh unh...too comfortable here." Torrey murmured sleepily, tightening her hold around Taylor's waist and burrowing her face into the soft flesh of Taylor's neck.
The artist could have moaned in pleasure at the feel of the body lying half on her own. If Torrey didn't want to move then Taylor was the last person on earth who was going to talk her into it. The artist brushed her lips against the blonde's forehead, pulling the down comforter from the back of the couch over the two of them. Torrey snuggled deeper and Taylor whispered.
"Good night, Little Bit."
"Night," Torrey mumbled.
Taylor relaxed and enjoyed the weight of the woman's body on her own and the way her arms felt, holding Torrey close to her. She had a feeling Jess might freak if she found them in the morning, but right now it was the farthest thing from her mind.
Taylor groaned and rolled over. She had to remember not to fall asleep on this couch again; her back was killing her. The artist opened sleepy eyes and found she was alone, but the distinct aroma of food told her where her bedmate was. She smiled. God, it was so easy to fall into an old habit.
She walked into the kitchen and nearly ran into Torrey walking in at the same time. The petite blonde wore a tank top and drawstring pants, her hair still damp from the shower.
"Morning," Taylor mumbled. "I thought that was you cooking."
"Hey, I'm on vacation." Torrey said with a smile. Slipping an arm around the artist's waist and walking into the kitchen with her.
"It's about time, I thought you two were never getting up." Jessica said as she poured more batter into the waffle maker. The young woman found the machine a couple of months back, tucked into a cabinet in Taylor's kitchen and realized it was pretty much like making pancakes.
"I was going to wake you up, but you were snoring so loud I figured you were dead to the world." Jessica said to Taylor.
"I do not snore." Taylor replied, defensively.
"Oh, yea you do." Jessica laughed.
"Tor, tell her I don't snore." Taylor looked at her friend for support.
"Uhm, well, the truth is...you do." Torrey said apologetically.
"What? Since when?" Taylor asked, dumbstruck.
"Well, I never noticed it before, but I did when we slept together last night." Torrey answered.
Now it was Jessica's turn to become speechless. "When you did what last night?"
"What?" Torrey asked her daughter.
"You said the two of you slept together." JT questioned.
"I can't believe I snore and nobody even said anything to me." Taylor chimed in with her own obsession.
"Honey, it's not that big a deal." Torrey answered.
"You slept together and you don't think it's a big deal?" Jessica answered.
"Okay, hold it both of you!" Torrey raised her voice to be heard above the two other women. "God, do you two always have this much stimulation before breakfast?" Torrey rubbed her temples.
"You," she said pointing to Taylor. "I'm sorry honey, but yes, somewhere in the last fifteen years you've started to, well it's really more of a relaxed, heavy breathing."
"Snoring." Jessica muttered under her breath.
"You, hush." Torrey scolded.
"It's not annoying, Stretch. It's actually kind of cute." Torrey finished with a grin.
"And you," She pointed to Jessica. "We fell asleep on the couch last night while we were talking. We slept there."
Torrey walked over and smiled approvingly at the two automatic coffee makers, one with tea, and the other with coffee in the glass carafes.
"She's taught you well, my child." She teased her daughter, pouring a mug of tea for herself and handing Taylor her coffee.
"See I told you I didn't snore." Taylor bumped JT's shoulder and growled as she went by.
"Hah, she was just being nice." Jessica replied.
"Watch it, squirt, you're not so big I can't toss you from these cliffs." Taylor shot back.
"Oooh, you're so butch. You and what army?" JT retorted.
Taylor and Jess smiled at one another, suddenly turning to face Torrey. Taylor moved to sit at the table and looked up at her old friend with a sheepish grin.
"I have no idea where she gets that." The artist said innocently.
"I can't imagine." Torrey said, shaking her head.
"I can do that, mom." Jessica said, rising from the breakfast table and taking the empty dishes from her mother's hand.
"Well, since you've got a handle on cleanup, squirt, I am off to a hot bath. That couch played hell with my back last night." Taylor said.
"Tor, what would you like to do today?" Taylor asked, pouring a cup of coffee to take with her.
"Sleep, mostly." The petite blonde grinned. "Actually, I wouldn't mind sitting by the pool for a while."
"Whatever you want just yell, Jess knows where we hide everything. I don't want to ignore you, but I've got some calls to make to get some things ready for the show. Jess will make sure you don't get too lonely." Taylor smiled at the blonde, as she looked up at the artist a little sleepily.