"Come in," Taylor responded to the knock on her office door.
"Tay," Jessica started.
"Not on your life." Taylor said without looking up. The artist pushed aside her Rolodex and leaned back in her chair. "Jess, your mother is the most open and nonjudgmental woman I know. Just tell her you're gay, it won't be that bad."
"She's gonna freak, I just know it. Or she won't even want to meet Val." Jessica replied fearfully.
Valerie Kane, the young woman from the art store called Jessica at least three times a week until Jess invited her to the house for dinner. Once it was apparent the two young women seemed to be serious about one another Taylor had to put her foot down. She told Jess that she wouldn't be able to date, aside from having Valerie over to the house, until her six months were over. After that, she could ask her mother what the rules would be.
Taylor was proud of the fact that Jess decided to be honest and up front with Valerie from the beginning. She told Val everything about why she was here in California. Surprisingly enough, the young woman said she could wait until Jessica's six months were up and anywhere they spent time together would be allright with her. Taylor thought Jess had a winner for her first serious relationship.
"Jess," Taylor chuckled. "Where do you get these perceptions of your mother? You know her better than that. Look I have to go into L.A. to the gallery real quick, that will leave you and your mom here for the afternoon to have a little heart to heart. Just be honest with her and I bet she won't disappoint you. Okay?"
" 'Kay." JT said dejectedly.
Torrey closed her eyes, a slight smile playing on her lips. The sun felt deliciously warm on her skin, the heat of the day quickly evaporating the wetness of the pool. Ah, California. She could definitely get used to this.
"Hey," Jessica said, sitting on the edge of the pool beside her mother. "Taylor had to run into the gallery, she said she'd be back by dinner and that she wanted to take us somewhere cool."
"Sounds good. Taylor always did know all the best restaurants in California." Torrey smiled.
The writer looked at her daughter seated next to her and gently brushed her hand across her cheek.
"I'm so proud of you, Jess. The way you've taken control of your life. I'm not sorry one little bit that I sent you out here, not after seeing you this way." Tears began to fall from Torrey's eyes, but she couldn't stop herself.
"I always wanted this for you, Jess. Just for you to be healthy and happy. I can't tell you enough how proud I am of you."
"I should tell you the same thing, mom. I kinda learned a lot of things about you, being out here with Taylor."
"What kind of things?" Torrey asked.
"Stuff we don't talk about. See Taylor and I have this pact that we can ask each other anything here and we have to tell the truth." Jessica answered.
"And, have you? Told the truth, I mean."
"Oh, yea." JT replied remembering some of the hard truths she and Taylor both learned about each other in the last five months.
"And, you think I don't tell you the truth?" Torrey pondered.
"It's not like you lie, mom, we just don't talk about stuff like that. You never tell me about when you were a kid or what you were like in college. I guess until Taylor started talking about you, I didn't even really know you." Jessica finished softly.
"Then maybe we should do that, be honest with one another." Torrey said.
"You sure you want to do that, mom? It means that we can ask each other anything and you have to answer and you can't lie. We don't avoid subjects just because they're too complicated." Jessica carefully enunciated the last word; Torrey recognizing her often used phrase.
"I guess it wouldn't be very fair of me to expect you do go through things I'm not willing to put myself through. Allright ask away!" Torrey said flinging her arms out at her sides.
Jessica laughed and wasn't sure how to start. She wondered if it was her or her mother, but the older woman next to her seemed very different here in California. This conversation wasn't exactly going as she had planned it.
"Okay!" Jess said with a grin. "Do you really have a tattoo?"
Torrey groaned. "She didn't." The writer said, meaning her old friend. Torrey shook her head, grinned, then pulled the strap of her bathing suit top down, exposing the area above her breast. The Tazmanian Devil smiled out from her skin.
Jess continued to laugh. "It's so cool. You know I met the guy that did this for you." Jess said, then explained how Kenny was an animator at one of the larger animation studios now. "I can't believe you never told me you had this."
"God, honey, you must think I'm a total tight ass, don't you?" Torrey looked over at her daughter, the smile disappearing from her face.
"Mom, it sounds like you and Taylor had so much fun when you guys were younger. What happened?"
"I guess life just happened, Jess. I never wanted you to have to make all the same mistakes I made, so I tried to protect you from knowing about all the trouble you could get into. I never could have known that by doing that I was having the complete opposite effect on you. I'm so sorry, Jess." Taylor said sadly.
"Mom, you didn't make me any way. I chose to be this way. Okay so we could have done some things differently, but now I know that you love me and I know that I love you too. Taylor says the best thing about second chances is that it's our chance to make things right again. I'd like to do that, mom. I'd like to make it right with you." Jessica said with tears in her eyes.
"Oh, Jess," Torrey said hugging her daughter tightly. "I promise to work at this second chance we've been given. Besides, I wasn't always a stick in the mud. I did my share of crazy stunts."
"Like what?" JT asked.
Torrey proceeded to tell her daughter how she ripped her top off in front of Kenny that night she insisted that she and Taylor get tattooed. They talked about a lot of things that day. When the sun climbed high into the sky they stopped for iced tea and went back into the Japanese garden to continue their conversation.
Torrey told Jessica her version of a lot of the little incidents Taylor already informed the girl of. She described the day she and Taylor first met and the day Jess was born. For the first time, Torrey told the young woman about the emergency hysterectomy that she had to have and the fact that Jess would always be the only child she would ever give birth to.
Small things began to add up for Jessica and the more Torrey explained of her young life, the more the young woman realized why her mother acted the way she did about certain things. Finally Jess thought they needed to cross the big hurdle.
"Mom, I--uhm, there's kind of someone I've been seeing, you know just as friends." She explained Taylor's rules about dating while she was here.
"I kind of wanted to, you know, actually have a real date, but I wanted to know how you felt about it." Jessica stammered.
Torrey pondered this bit of information, remembering the kinds of boys she liked at seventeen. Back then, anyone her mother wouldn't have approved of was fair game. She wondered what kind of boy her daughter would be taken with. He probably wore a leather jacket, he was certain to have a bike, he was--a girl?
"What did you say?" Torrey had to ask her daughter to repeat the last phrase.
"Her name is Valerie." JT looked into her mother's eyes and swallowed hard. "Mom, I'm gay."
Torrey's eyes never blinked or left Jessica's face. She was smiling on the inside, but didn't dare allow it to rise to the surface. Her daughter just wouldn't get the joke.
"What's she like, is she nice?" Torrey asked.
"Well, yea. She's very nice. It doesn't bother you...about me?" JT asked her mother. She was waiting for tears or a little lecture, something. This new aspect to her mother was throwing her off. She and Torrey spent so many years at odds with one another; it felt curiously new, being friends.
"No, Jess, it doesn't bother me at all. As a matter of fact why don't you see if she wants to come to dinner with us tonight? Check with Taylor first, though. We don't want to mess up any plans she might have."
"Cool." Jessica responded. "I can't believe I was freaked about telling you this." The young woman was shaking her head.
Torrey listened as her daughter revealed her fears regarding the situation and Torrey knew that holding back the truth about herself now would be on the same level as lying. She wanted Jess to trust her every bit as much as she seemed to trust in Taylor. There would only be one way to do that. She would have to earn it.
"Jess," Torrey began, not really sure what or how she wanted to say this. "That's pretty much the way I am." Torrey said, thinking that statement was about as clear as mud. For a writer she was feeling at a particular loss.
Jessica simply stared at her mother. She was talking about something else, right. Just because she doesn't date men doesn't mean anything. She doesn't date women either, does she? Jess remembered the women who never seemed to be around longer than a couple of weeks at a time. They were always introduced as her mother's friends. Just like when she found out about Taylor's feelings for her mother, her world was again being rocked.
"Wow." Jess responded.
"I guess that was the line you didn't expect today, huh?" Torrey asked.
"That's for sure!" Jess grinned over at her mother. Why is it that hindsight is so clear? In a matter of seconds, so many disjointed scenes that involved her mother, made sense to the young woman.
"Are you sure?" JT asked her mother.
Torrey laughed at the question that should have been a mother's to ask.
"Trust me, Jess. I'm sure." Torrey answered.
"Oh." The girl said.
Jessica looked up into her mother's smiling eyes and for probably the first time in her life, she blushed in front of the older woman.
"Ohhh." Jess replied, realizing what her mother meant. "You're sure because you, uhm..."
"Yep," Torrey nodded her head. How do you tell your only daughter that sex with a woman was the best thing you've ever experienced?
"I, uhm, I've never, you know." Jess replied
Torrey must have looked surprised.
"I know, with as wild as I've been, it's hard to believe, right?" The girl asked. "I guess I thought, I don't know, like it would be more special or something if I waited. Ahh, that's sounds stupid, doesn't it?"
"It sounds very smart. You're absolutely right. Your first time should be with someone you care about and who cares for you." Torrey was taken back to a night when, held safe in Taylor's arms, the artist whispered the same words to her.
"Was my dad your first?" JT couldn't keep herself from asking.
"Yes, honey, he was." Torrey answered.
"You didn't love him, though, did you?"
"No. I liked him an awful lot, but I didn't care for him that way."
"I guess you didn't know you were into women back then, huh?" Jess observed.
"Honey, I didn't know anything about anything back then. I was one very naive girl at seventeen. If I hadn't met Taylor I wonder if I would have learned about love and friendship at all." Torrey finished softly.
That's when Jessica saw it. She was surprised at first, but her mother's eyes held the same sad look that Taylor's did when she confessed to the young girl her feelings for Torrey. It was a sad, longing sort of look. JT couldn't help but pursue it.
"Who did you want your first time to be with?" The young woman pushed.
There it was, Torrey thought. The question that would tell her daughter whether Torrey truly believed in their honesty pact. She expected the truth from her daughter, now would she deliver the same?
"I wanted it to be with Taylor." Torrey said in a voice that was barely a whisper.
"Do you still...want to be with her?"
Torrey smiled slowly at her daughter and Jessica noticed tears forming in the writer's eyes.
"I've known Taylor for eighteen years, and I'm more in love with her right this minute than I was the day I fell." Torrey answered honestly. "Actually, I'm surprised she never saw it."
"Yea," Jess answered as if to herself. "I am too. Look, mom, maybe you and Taylor should talk--"
"No, Jess." A look of panic flickered across Torrey's face. "Jess, please. I could live without a lot of things in my life, but Taylor's friendship isn't one of them. Please, don't do anything to interfere. Promise me you won't." Torrey pleaded.
Jessica's brow furrowed, and her heart was torn. The two women she loved most in life and their hearts broke for each other, they just didn't know it. Why couldn't they see it within each other? She promised Taylor she wouldn't tell and now she was about to make the same promise to her mother.
"I promise, mom."
"Hey, I need to get cleaned up if we're going out tonight. We better get a move on." Torrey said to her daughter.
"Hey, mom?" Jessica said, pulling her mother's eyes back to the seat she'd just risen from. "I love you. You're a great mom, you know that?"
Torrey moved in and hugged her daughter tightly. "Thank you, Jess. That means the world to me. You're a pretty wonderful daughter."
Jessica smirked down at her mother. "Yea, well, you probably could have smacked me around some and it wouldn't have hurt. I don't think you ever hit me once." Jess teased.
A look of pain flashed through Torrey's eyes and she quickly turned away from her daughter.
"We better get going." Was all the writer said as she left Jessica wondering what the big deal with spanking your kid was.
"Tay, can I ask you a question?" Jessica caught Taylor in her office. The tall woman just tucked her billfold inside the breast pocket of the Armani linen jacket she wore.
"What's up, squirt?" Taylor asked casually.
The older woman spoke with Jessica earlier, when she got home, and heard the good news about she and her mother's new found relationship. She couldn't help saying I told you so to the young girl. Jessica left out the parts about her mother's personal life when she talked with Taylor.
"Why would mom get freaked out about me asking why she never spanked me when I was a kid?" Jessica asked.
Taylor stopped what she was doing and looked over at the girl.
"Did you ask your mother that question?" Taylor asked.
"Well, not seriously, but when I teased her about it she kind of put me off." Jessica explained.
"I think it's something for you to ask your mom about, Jess." Taylor answered.
"You're putting me off, too?" Jessica couldn't keep the wounded expression from her eyes.
Taylor took Jessica's hand as she leaned on the edge of her desk.
"There are some things that are held in confidence between your mom and me. Things that I just wouldn't feel comfortable talking about behind your mom's back. Please, ask her. You know she won't let you down." Taylor said.
Jessica nodded and gave the artist an understanding smile, all the while wondering what her mother would be so afraid to tell her.
"There are none so blind, as those who would not see..."
After picking up Valerie, the four drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Newport Beach where Taylor hired a helicopter to fly them out to Catalina Island. Torrey had her eyes screwed shut until about five minutes into the fifteen-minute flight, when Taylor slipped an arm around her shoulders and whispered that she was indeed safe with her. The old habit of feeling safe and secure in Taylor's embrace did the trick and soon, Torrey was enjoying the breathtaking view as they flew in over Avalon Bay.
Taylor explained that they had reservations at The Landing in the town of Avalon. Since that was about a mile from where they landed, Taylor asked the pilot to have a cab waiting for them.
"I picked Avalon just for you, Tor. In honor of a Chicagoan coming to California." Taylor said.
The two older women laughed.
"I must be missing something. I don't get it." Jessica stated.
"That makes two of us." Valerie chimed in.
"Avalon was developed by William Wrigley. In the nineteen twenties the Chicago Cubs used to come here for spring training." Torrey smiled at Taylor as she explained.
Torrey was surprised that a helicopter could be so large and comfortable. She told them about the time, when doing research for one of her books set in Mexico, the military gave them a ride. She said the helicopter had no doors and the engines were so loud you could barely hear yourself think. She remembered it fondly as one of the most harrowing experiences of her life.
Taylor told them that this was pretty much the Rolls Royce of helicopters. It was upholstered in leather and seated six people, not including the pilot. She gave a wry grin at Torrey when Jessica asked why they didn't just take the ferry. The artist said it took an hour to get to the island by ferry and when the sea was rough flying was the only way to go. Finally Taylor revealed the truth behind the helicopter ride whenever she went to Catalina.
"I get seasick." She said with surprising candor, raising her voice above the noise of the helicopter's engines.
Torrey liked the sudden and uncharacteristic vulnerability in the dark-haired woman's eyes when she unveiled this fact about herself. The writer remembered times past when the artist tried to appear stoic about it, usually turning green at the first step off of solid ground onto a rolling surface.
By the time they were exiting the cab, Valerie and Torrey were friends. The writer seemed genuinely interested in Val's experience as a freshman at the University of California. Jessica said a silent thank you, thinking it wouldn't hurt to have her mom hear a few positive comments about the school.
As Torrey and Valerie walked along in front of Taylor and Jessica, the young woman suddenly frowned and turned to the taller woman next to her.
"Tay?" Jess sounded worried as she watched the two women in front of her. "You don't think mom will do anything to...you know...embarrass me tonight. Do you?"
Taylor laughed so loud that the two women in front of them stopped to look. Hugging Jessica by the shoulders she leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"She's your mother, Jess. Of course she will!"
Taylor resumed her laughter as the women walked into the restaurant.
They all enjoyed the Landing's specialty, mesquite-grilled swordfish with mango salsa. Taylor and Torrey indulged in one of the Landing's own microbrewery specialties, a non-alcoholic lager. By the time coffee was being enjoyed, they all felt quite comfortable together.
"I'm still finding it a little hard to believe I'm having dinner with two people as famous as Taylor Kent and Torrey Gray." Valerie said with enthusiasm.
"Hey," Jessica looked at her, feigning a pout.
"Oh, Jess, you know what I mean." She laughed as she nudged JT's shoulder. "I mean most girls our age would practically consider it an honor to be raised by two mothers as together as you two."
Valerie's compliment indicated that the young woman thought that Taylor and Torrey were indeed a couple. Jessica saw the understanding half smile on her mother's face and cleared her throat to explain.
"Uhm, actually, Val--" Jessica started.
"Taylor, want to enjoy the sunset with me?" Torrey interrupted her daughter. The writer stood and held out her hand to the artist who took it in her own slender grasp and they walked outside onto the deck.
Jessica wanted to explain to Val that the two women in her life didn't have that kind of loving relationship, but as she watched them through the large window, she realized that wasn't exactly true. The young girl saw her mother standing with her arm around the taller woman's waist, Taylor's arm resting lightly across the blonde's shoulders. She realized then, that the two women were in that kind of a loving relationship. Granted, there was no sex involved, but that didn't mean that intimacy didn't exist. Of course, they did love each other; they were even very much in love with one another. The only problem was that neither of them knew the other person felt exactly the same way. This could be tricky.
"So, what did you think?" Jessica asked her mother.
The three women sat around the living room enjoying the warm evening breeze and listening to the sounds from the surf below the cliffs.
"I think dinner was great, what did you think, Stretch?"
"Oh, yea, I think so too." Taylor played along.
"You guys enjoy being cruel, don't you?"
Torrey's melodic laughter filled up the room. "I like her, Jess. I like her a lot." Torrey beamed.
"Yea, she's nice, huh?"
"Pretty, too." Torrey added with a wink.
"Which is what makes me wonder why she's going out with you, squirt." Taylor chimed in.
"Very funny." Jess responded to the artist's teasing.
"Hush." Torrey tossed a pillow in Taylor direction.
Jessica caught Taylor's eye and motioned for the woman to leave the room. The young girl wanted to finish the conversation with her mother that had been bugging her all day.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I have a couple of calls to make. I'll be in the office if either of you need me." Taylor said as she left the room.
"Since we're alone could I ask you a question, mom?"
Torrey nodded her assent.
"This afternoon when we were talking, why did you get kind of torqued out when I mentioned smacking me around?"
The same pained look crossed Torrey's features before she answered.
"It doesn't have anything to do with you, Jess. It's ancient history, lets just let it go."
JT didn't want to play this card, but somehow she felt that this was a conversation they needed to have. She didn't know why, it was simply a feeling.
"So, today...our honesty pact. That was just for this afternoon?"
"No, Jess, of course not. You know I'll answer any question you have." Torrey responded.
"Well, then...what's it all about mom, this thing you have about hitting?"
"Ask me something easier." Torrey said hoarsely.
Jessica sat down next to her mother and slipped her hand within her mother's slender fingers. She couldn't quite understand the look of fear and pain that played on her mother's face.
"What is it mom? Why would you be afraid to hit me?"
The hurt, wounded look in her mother's green eyes brought a sudden realization to Jessica.
"Did someone hit you?" Jessica said in a very soft voice.
The way Torrey looked into Jessica's eyes and the tears that filled the writer's green depths, spilling out onto her cheeks, was the affirmative response that Jessica really didn't want to know.
"Who?" Jessica said tightly, her jaw clenched.
Torrey recognized the low growl of her daughter's voice and gave a little smile at how familiar it sounded. She knew right then that she had another protector. Jessica's voice took on exactly the same hard edge that Taylor's did at the thought of someone hurting her friend.
"It was a long time ago, Jess. Before you were even born. I'm just sorry that it affected the way I raised you."
"It was your mom, wasn't it?"
Torrey nodded and the tears came harder. She thought it odd that you could think of something that happened to you so long ago and the hurt would come back just as fresh as when it first happened. She didn't want to scare Jessica, so she held the worst of the pain in.
"I'm so sorry, mom." Jessica felt tears fall from her own eyes and realized that she'd never cried for her mother before. Apologizing seemed so inane at this point. She never felt this way about the woman who raised her. JT never met Evelyn, even though Torrey's mother lived only an hour away from them, but she had this incredible urge to make the old woman accountable for her mother's pain. As long as she would live, JT would never understand how anyone could treat someone as wonderful and loving as her mother, so cruelly.
Taylor quietly entered the living room and found Torrey by herself sitting on the floor, her neck and back resting against the sofa. Taylor dropped down beside the writer and Torrey immediately leaned her head on the artist's shoulder, Taylor moving her arm to pull the smaller woman closer to her.
"Where's Jess?" Taylor asked.
"I sent her off to bed. I think finding out her mother had the crap beaten out of her by her own mother was more than she could handle in one day. You knew she was going to ask, didn't you, Stretch?"
"She asked me about it earlier. I told her she'd have to ask you herself. I'm sorry I didn't really have time to prepare you for what she had in mind."
"It's okay," Torrey said with a gentle squeeze to Taylor's free hand. She absently twirled the band that encircled the artist's left ring finger. The writer couldn't help but notice that they both still wore the wedding bands that Taylor had purchased all those years ago.
Taylor watched as Torrey played with the platinum band on her finger. The artist debated over whether to remove the ring before Torrey arrived, but she couldn't do it. The ring was just as much a part of her as her love for the woman she now held tightly against her. She sighed with relief in the airport when Torrey took her hand and Taylor at once caught sight of the familiar ring on Torrey's left hand.
"I wasn't sure what to tell her. I told her the truth. I hope it didn't scare her." Torrey said.
Taylor rested her chin on the top of the soft blonde hair. She smiled to herself, breathing in the familiar scent of the same brand of shampoo Torrey used since she was a teenager. There was a satisfying comfort to the odor that clung to her memory for years after Torrey was gone.
Yes, Taylor knew Torrey would ultimately tell her daughter the truth, as ugly a truth as it was. She was also sure that it did more than simply scare Jessica, remembering how the admission first affected her when Torrey finally relented and confessed her family's secret. Taylor never really felt true, deep down anger until that night.
Taylor thought of the nights spent in their Sorority House bedroom before she fell in love with Torrey. The small blonde would wake up to nightmares every night, until Taylor told her that maybe she should see a doctor. Her young friend stubbornly refused. The artist attributed the night time behavior to it being the girl's first time away from home, but the first time Torrey went home for the weekend and came back with a split lip, Taylor's heart lurched. Another time it was a bruise on her jaw. Finally, when the young woman returned back to the campus with a black eye, Taylor confronted her young friend. Finally, held safely in the arms of someone who cared for her, Torrey confessed that it was her mother who hit her.
She explained that she ran away from home at fourteen to go live with her brother and he told her mother that if she came after Torrey he would make public what she was doing to her only daughter. The woman gave in and Torrey lived with her brother until his death three years later. Torrey cried in Taylor's arms and couldn't understand why her mother always did this to her, more importantly why she seemed powerless to stop it. Taylor cried with the young woman and promised her no one would ever hurt her like that again. Looking at the small, frightened girl in her arms, Taylor couldn't fathom how anyone could hurt such a beautiful, trusting soul.
The next time Torrey went home for spring break, Taylor borrowed a car from a friend and went with her. She told her small friend that she might want to make her separation from her mother more permanent, indicating a place in the car for plenty of boxes. Then Taylor proceeded to enjoy herself by sneering at the older woman all week and never letting the small blonde out of her sight. Torrey never went back after that and it was many years until the young woman was finally able to stand up to the woman who destroyed her childhood.