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Salt in a Wound on a Warm Afternoon

 

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Erica Stone

It’s just about 3 o’clock in the morning when the bed shifts. Sleepily, Rickie mutters. She’s blissfully unaware of the movement around the apartment; Zara is in a silent panic to collect her belongings, and escape before the redhead stirs just enough to ask her to stay. When the alarm sounds a few hours later, there’s no grumbled protest. No warm body pulling the sheets away, no agitated feet pushing the detective out of bed.

Zara?

Rickie’s arm reaches out in search of Zara’s slim frame but, she’s met only by cold sheets.

Babe?”

There’s no immediate panic as Rickie rubs the sleep from her eyes, and swings her legs over the side of the bed. It’s not abnormal for Zara not to respond; afterall, it’s just before 6 am, and the barista has never been known to be fully awake at this hour.  Striding over to her bureau to get ready for the new workday, she’s expecting Zara to shuffle in, either from the bathroom or with an early morning snack. But, the apartment is still – eerily so, and Rickie’s heart begins to beat faster and louder in her chest.

The bathroom is unoccupied, and Rickie doesn’t realize that the toothbrush cup is empty until she’s reaching out for her own. She’s surprised that she hadn’t noticed that small detail sooner.

Strange.

Consequently, Rickie begins to notice some of the other things that had amassed in her apartment over the last few weeks – a sweater, a pair of flip-flops, some bracelets and headbands, things quintessential to Zara’s look and personality. But that morning, the only evidence of Zara’s presence is her phone, still plugged in, sitting on the bedside table.

The morning is slow – Rickie and Jared spend the majority of their time delegating paperwork, and prepping interviews. Standard, mundane detective work.  Later, Rickie sacrifices her lunch break for a commute to Reed’s, where Zara is scheduled to work the afternoon shift. The coffee shop is busy, as usual.

Is Zara out back?

The girl behind the espresso machine shakes her head.  “She was supposed to come in at 11, we haven’t seen her yet.” She then suggests that Rickie return just before closing time. Grateful yet still rather unsettled, the detective returns to the precinct, where the remainder of the day drags on. Rickie loiters until the last person leaves Reed’s that evening, and when the lights dim through the front windows, she knows there’s only one option left. The drive to Zara’s apartment is beyond nerve-wracking; Rickie spends most of the journey drumming her thumbs against the steering wheel, praying that her girlfriend is home rather than waiting to be let into a building across town.

Zara?” she inquires, knocking on the apartment door. The sound of music is faint, yet discernible, confirming the presence of someone.

Baby, can you let me in?”

June 08, 2018 06:58 pm

Zara Peer

Zara’s back at her apartment before the sun is in the sky, tossing the collection of her odds and ends from Erica’s apartment aside in her hallway. She’s normally excessively organized – and would have taken the time to put everything in its place meticulously. Instead, she heads straight for her nightstand, knowing precisely her goal.

She’s sparking her lighter to a joint before she’s even realizing it, and this is a process she continues long into the day. She doesn’t have her phone with her, and truly has no sense of time. She doesn’t think of Erica’s worrying, or of the work shift she’s skipping, only the idea that she needs to feel absolutely nothing.

Because I’m feeling everything. And it’s killing me.

Normally, moments of high stress elicit a different response. She has the ability to run free, the lycanthropy breaking the mold of her sorrows. But this grief is different, so deep, and completely untraceable to Zara.

All I know is that I want her.

But how much?

She’s outside of her own mind for most of the day – blissfully high, unwilling to process the idea that loving Rickie would mean to let her go; or uproot her own life to follow. She eats most of the food in her fridge in cabinets. It’s slim picking as is, she prefers to eat fresh – and she’s mostly been at Rickie’s apartment.

She wonders what Erica is doing, if she’s at work, trying to get in touch with her, and finding herself unable. Leaving her phone was done on purpose, but it keeps Zara from trying to talk to Erica when she isn’t quite prepared to.

Just tell her you love her.

Love isn’t so black and white.

After what feels like a vacuum of time, a knock comes at Zara’s door. She recognizes the voice, the gentle tenor of Erica’s tone sending an unmistakable shiver down the younger woman’s spine. She’ll love forever the sound of the detective’s voice, and always the way she says her name. She teeters to the door, Cheetos dust all over her Reed’s Roastery t-shirt.

“Hi,” Zara greets, leaving the door open as she wanders back for the sofa – and food. The entire apartment wreaks of marijuana, leaving little to the imagination as to what Zara’s been up to all day. And again, uncharacteristic of her to miss a shift, let along to drop completely off the grid to Erica.

But it’s all a defense mechanism, whether or not Erica wants to see it as that. Zara is scared beyond what she has ever comprehended as the meaning of fear.

I love you.

No.

No?

No. I just…

Little b*tch.

“I love you.” Zara blurts out, feeling her eyes already brimming with hot tears. “You know that, right?” She dusts off her hand, thereafter reaching for Erica’s. “I think I left my phone at your apartment… Could really be the only place it is, I didn’t go to work today.” Of course Zara doesn’t know Erica showed up to Reed’s.

She’s still playing catch-up to just how dedicated Erica is to her.

June 09, 2018 01:00 am

Erica Stone

When the door swings open, Rickie subconsciously leans away from the stifling smell of burnt marijuana. Uncomfortable with how the odor seeps into the hallways, she ushers herself in quickly, shutting the door behind her thereafter. Zara’s living space is in wild disarray, which makes Rickie’s brow furrow in concern – she’d come to discover that, despite first impressions, the barista is rather obsessive about cleanliness and order. A characteristic that Rickie is quite familiar with, herself.

You left early.

The statement is just meant as a way for Rickie to organize her thoughts. She’d spent the day worried for Zara’s whereabouts and safety, and having no way of contacting her only made matters worse. Although her anxiety had remained primarily contained, Jared picked up on Rickie’s slight shift in demeanor – as he usually does. At the end of the work day, he’d offered to buy her a beer, but she’d politely declined. She had other priorities in mind.

And I have your phone.”

Rickie steps toward the coffee table to return the phone. Zara, even when covered in crumbs and orange, cheesy dust, has the ability to knock the air out of the detective’s lungs. There’s something in the way her hair tumbles across her shoulders, how, no matter the circumstance, her eyes always gleam with a hint of wonder and excitement, and…

You’re so f*cking gay.

No, you’re in love.

Stop that.

I do,” she responds, allowing for Zara to take her hand. She glances down at their entwined fingers, reveling in the way their hands fit together.

Come with me.

Rickie fidgets, shifting her weight from foot to foot. She hasn’t mustered the courage to sit, yet. In this moment, it scares her to be in such close proximity with the woman who’d stolen her heart so quickly – there’s some comfort in the distance she’s maintained.

I know this kind of life isn’t your thing, but – ” pause, and a hard swallow “ – We’d be alright. I just…”

I need you.

In her own way, Rickie has become dependent on Zara. The young woman’s enthusiasm and fervor for life is intoxicating, and there’s no doubt that Rickie is a better version of herself with Zara around. Reverting to her old monotonous routine just seems… wrong.

Please?

June 09, 2018 10:42 am

Zara Peer

 

“Go with you?” Zara lets out a soft sigh. She wants to say yes. To dive into the deep end and accept everything Erica has to offer is offering. “I want to.” She can’t lie to the detective. They both know each other too well now, insuperable and happily so. “There’s nothing I want more than to be with you every second.”

But I can’t.

Yes you can. It’s easy.

But she craves control and order and everything, in this whirlwind moment, is too much. She’s not ready to drop her life, and move across the country. Everything that it would mean for her – everything it would imply for them.

“There’s a moment, I remember the very second, that it went from ‘me’ to ‘we’. That ‘I’ became an ‘us’. I think about it all of the time. You’ve drilled a hole in my heart and poured yourself into it, and I know I can’t survive without you.” She slowly stands, hand still holding Erica’s, the other gently caressing her cheek. “You are in my heart forever, Erica Stone. I love you.”

But…

“But I can’t go to North Carolina. Not yet. I need time to…” It’s not a rejection of Erica by any means. She wants her, and really, needs her, in every possible way. “But that’s forever, you know? If I go with you… That’s it.” She’s not commitment phobic – but even Erica can admit despite a 7 month long ‘frustrationship’, things were moving fast.

The women were only apart to work, and every possible second they could be together, they were. Zara is attached, and so is Erica.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t scared.

“Give me some time?”


June 09, 2018 11:24 am

Erica Stone

Okay.

It’s all Erica Stone can offer at this point in time. Of course, she’d anticipated a ‘no’ or at least some kind of deflection. Asking Zara to uproot herself, to abandon a life she’d made in LA had been a bold, perhaps callous move on Rickie’s part – it isn’t particularly like her to act out of impulse. But, it’s a testament to how drastically she has changed in the last few weeks. If Zara can admit to the ways she’s been impacted by their relationship, Rickie is experiencing the same, but ten-fold.

If and when you’re ready,” she says softly, “Come home to me.

A heavy silence settles over the two women as they stand, forehead to forehead, in the middle of Zara’s apartment. Rickie’s eyes slide shut in an attempt to prevent tears from spilling. There’s a moment that doesn’t feel quite real – like she’d dreamt this entire scenario, and is due to wake up at any given moment. But, when the familiar melody of ‘City of Angels’ by The Head and the Heart fills the air, Rickie knows this is real.

I know just where my heart should be.
Yeah, she’s right in front of me.

Tell her you love her, too.

Can we…

Rickie clears her throat, quickly wiping at her wet cheeks before Zara has the chance to see the tears.

Let’s go for a drive?

Without waiting for a response, the detective is pulling Zara toward the door. If their time together is limited, Rickie wants to spend it wisely. And if it means using every second of the night to memorize all that is Zara Peer, so be it.

June 09, 2018 11:56 am

Zara Peer

The ride that night was made in silence. Radio off. Zara unbuckled and leaning against Erica’s side while her truck hummed on down the road. They didn’t say much to each other that evening, neither capable of expressing anything else.

The following days are gone – Rickie effectively departed for Fort Bragg, and Zara trying her best to ignore it’s happened, period. They haven’t texted beyond confirmation her flight had landed, and the brunette finds herself yearning for the company of one particular woman.

Pulling out her phone, she swallows her pride and clicks on Erica’s contact.

Dialing…

The other side connects.

“Hey, baby.” Zara greets, hearing already the sound of Rickie’s breathing on the other end. There’s a long pause before Rickie offers any response, but the conversation drags on, until Zara adds:

“I’m going to come out there.” Then Erica is pausing again, hanging off the end of her words.

“Soon, maybe.”

“Yeah, soon…” She droops, still holding onto her cellphone.

“I have to be up early. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“I love you, Erica.” She has to pull her phone back to check that the call didn’t disconnect. “Baby?”

“I know that. Love you, too.”

“And I m-“ The line disconnects, leaving Zara to sit alone in her too empty bed, in an apartment that feels too quiet. She feels an instant pang of regret for not having dropped everything to follow her – which reassures her that her love is genuine, but she knows she made the right choice. She knows without a doubt Erica is hurting, or perhaps allowing the distance to push Zara into going to North Carolina.

She pulls out her phone, tapping away a message.

Erica Stone
I miss everything about you, and it’s only been a few days.
Give me some time. I’ll find my way to you.
Love you.

June 13, 2018 10:20 pm

Erica Stone

In the morning, Rickie leaves a note, just as she did after their very first night together. This time, however, the statement is simple. And conclusive.

I love you, too.
~ E

Writing ‘E’ feels strange, but Rickie doesn’t mind so much. Over the short span of time they’ve spent together, Rickie has come to love the way it sounds. But, Zara will forever remain the only person allowed to use her full name.

She’d become soft in the last few weeks.

But, as her boots hit the pavement just outside the airport terminal, Rickie is back in ‘Military Mode.’ After flying through the TSA Pre-Check, she slings her bag over her shoulder, and sets out for her gate, hyperaware of how much attention her uniform draws. Some passersby insist on thanking her for serving; in response, she explains that she is only just beginning her term. 

The journey to Fort Bragg is long, but only by virtue of Rickie’s heavy heart. Leaving her work family, a career, a place she’d established as her home is hard enough. Losing Zara makes it near unbearable. The flight itself is seamless. North Carolina air is different, however, and Rickie instantly misses home.

The following days are a blur. It takes very little time for Rickie to settle into her new quarters – a 2-bedroom house complete with full amenities, and a rather large backyard. She has little to unpack, and even less to do around the house. Barney barks at the back door, insisting on being let out into the yard. Rickie obliges.

Later, she’s just getting off the phone with Zara when the sound of a familiar voice makes her freeze. 

“Lieutenant Stone.”

It can’t be.

“It’s been quite a while.”

Slowly, she turns to come face-to-face with Sage Kennedy.

I don’t f*cking believe it.” Rickie can’t help but laugh as she steps forward, arms lifting to encircle the tall blonde’s shoulders. The two women chat for a moment.

“Caught wind of your recent recommissioning, so I had to come by and welcome you to the neighborhood.”

Here I am. What, 6 years later?”

“And you haven’t changed a bit.”

You still drink those piss in a bottle beers?”

“What do you think?”

First round on me, then. Just let me know when you’re free.

“For old time’s sake.”

The two women grin at eachother before embracing once again. Rickie is all too familiar with the way Sage conducts herself – her mannerisms, her quirks, her habits. Long story short, the two women been married for a brief period of time. They’d spent their years at UCSB attached at the hip; after their 2ndyear together, it only made sense for Rickie to propose. But, when Sage was deployed immediately following their commissioning, the couple split on mutually cordial terms. As Rickie often put it, the relationship had been “heaven while it lasted.” 

But, it had taken a toll on her heart. As mutual as the divorce had been, Rickie felt like a part of her being had been stolen. After Sage’s deployment, Rickie swore she’d never allow herself to get that invested in another person. She couldn’t bear to sacrifice another piece of herself.

Now, her relationship with Zara is no different. She’d opened up to another woman, allowed Zara to reach in and take not a piece, but her entire heart. The emptiness in her chest cavity makes each day away from LA (and from Zara) miserable. She’d hoped that a total immersion in work would prove to be a sufficient distraction. But, it’s impossible not to think of the woman she’d fallen so hard for, especially when that particular woman is trying to maintain an open line a communication.

Zara Peer
Take all the time you need.

June 14, 2018 12:14 am
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