Unbeknownst to Therese, for the past five months Carol had been signing her name as Carol Belivet. She had received some looks from customers at the furniture store, but they all respected (and feared) her too much to ask any questions. Prior to putting it down on paper, Carol had spent mornings in the shower testing the flow of the name on her tongue. She would be lathering her hair and whispering "Carol Belivet" and she would feel the girlish urge to giggle at the sound of it. She imagined herself as a love-struck school girl with a crush on the prettiest girl in class. Quite frankly, she was surprised she hadn't dropped Harge's name as soon as Therese had come back to her at the Oak Room.
It was coming up on a year since that fateful moment at Frankenburg's, and to celebrate, Carol was taking Therese ice-skating. While Carol was greatly looking forward to the experience, the younger woman was skeptical.
"Oh, I don't know, Carol… I can be rather clumsy on solid ground. I can't imagine what I would look like on ice," Therese had said as she looked over the ad in the newspaper.
"Don't be silly, Therese." Carol gently swatted at the paper, startling her partner. "You're a fast learner, you'll pick it up in no time."
The younger woman pouted for a moment and scrunched her eyebrows together in thought. "Okay. I'll go—if you promise not to laugh at me if I fall."
Carol let out a chuckle and picked up her dirty coffee mug to put in the sink. "I promise I'll do my best not to."
And that's how Carol ended up stifling a guffaw as she watched Therese squat down so low her butt was almost touching the ice.
"Therese, honey, I know you're trying not to fall, but you're not even really skating." Carol was practically skating circles around her partner, who was moving at a snail's pace across the ice.
Therese huffed loudly in response and tried to straighten her legs, but as soon as she started moving any faster than a car in neutral, she dropped back down to the ice. "I haven't done this since I was a kid." She stuck her arms out in front of her to maintain balance. "The ground didn't seem so frightening when I was only three feet from it."
"Here, hold my hand and I'll make sure you don't fall." Carol skated up to Therese's side and stretched out her hands.
Therese briefly glanced at her partner's hands, quickly looked back at the ice, and then gazed around at everyone else. The rink was large and not very crowded; people of all ages were skating. There were a handful of people that seemed to be practicing alone, several couples held hands as they explored the rink, and there was a group of grade-school children all giggling and shouting as they tried to race each other and inevitably toppled over onto the ice.
Therese worried at her bottom lip. "But—what if someone…?" Her gaze flickered nervously to some bystanders at the edge of the rink.
"It's okay, no one will think anything of it." Carol bent down to reach for Therese's hand. "And if anyone does, they'll take one look at you and know that you're holding onto me because you're terrified of falling flat on your face."
Therese, her face already tinged red from the cold, blushed and grabbed Carol's hand. As she began to stand up straight, she clutched Carol's forearm with her free hand and held onto her partner with a vice grip. She heard Carol inhale sharply, and Therese swiftly apologized. Carol smiled at her sweetly in response. "Just breathe, Therese."
They circled the rink several times as Carol showed her how to properly move her feet so that she could skate across the ice on her own. There were a couple of stumbles along the way, and a young boy who was skating backwards almost knocked Therese over because he wasn't paying attention.
About a half hour later, after Therese had gained the confidence to free Carol's hand from her death grip, she began to skate behind the younger woman and watched as Therese truly started to enjoy the freedom of ice skating.
"Oh, Carol!" Therese called out as she pushed off the ice and sped past an older couple who were moving at a leisurely pace. "This is fantastic!"
Carol laughed heartily, and felt her chest warm with affection for the young woman whose dimpled smile could light the night sky. "I'm glad you're enjoying it!"
As Therese skated farther and farther ahead of her, Carol thought about how much lighter she felt. The weight of Harge no longer bore down on her shoulders, and the risk of losing Rindy no longer kept her up every single night (although she still had nightmares of her daughter abandoning her, Therese was always there to comfort and ground her). This Christmas season was so much more joyful than it was a year ago, and Carol felt as though she were a different person. And I guess I am, she picked up her pace to catch up with Therese.
"You ready to go? I think I'm ready for lunch." Carol skated to Therese's side and placed her hand gently on her lower back.
Therese turned to her and grinned widely. "Yes, my stomach has been growling at me for the last ten minutes."
As they returned their skates to the booth, a young man came up to them with a clipboard in hand. "Good afternoon, ladies. Do you mind taking a survey rating your experience at the ice rink?"
Therese smiled politely at the young man and opened her mouth to respond, but Carol beat her to it. "No, not at all."
"Okay, great!" The young man dug in his pockets for a pen and flipped through the papers on his clipboard before asking, "Okay, could I please have your first and last name?"
Without a moment's hesitation, she responded, "Carol Belivet."
Therese's head whipped around to look at Carol, whose face had flushed red. As many times as she'd said it out loud to herself in the shower and signed documents as Carol Belivet, Carol had yet to introduce herself as such.
"Okay, Mrs. Belivet, could you please rate your experience on a scale from one to ten?" The young man, oblivious to the sudden energy shift between the two women, fixed his gaze on his clipboard.
"Yes, of course." Carol took a deep breath to clear her head as she brushed her hair out of her face, and proceeded to answer the man's questions.
All the while, Therese stared at her, completely dumbfounded. Even after the survey, as they walked to the car, Carol sensed that her partner was still processing what had happened. Carol felt uneasy about Therese's silence, it had been a long time since she had to ask the young woman what she was thinking. She worried that maybe she had overstepped a boundary, maybe Therese thought it silly that she would ever say something like that and was trying to find a way to gently let Carol know never to say it again.
During the short ride to their apartment, Carol nervously spoke of Rindy and Abby, hoping to distract Therese from her deep thoughts.
"Abby is still seeing that redhead, you know. She tells me they're going to spend the holidays together." Carol glanced quickly over to Therese, who was staring out the window.
"I'm glad to hear Abby is happy." Carol frowned at Therese's brief response, and had the nearly irresistible urge to smoke.
It wasn't until they had removed their gloves and hung up their coats that Therese turned to Carol, her jaw set and her eyebrows scrunched together, and said, "Did you mean it?"
Carol, in the middle of taking off her shoes, froze. She quickly regained her composure and put her shoes by the door where Therese stood. Carol took a deep breath, took her partner's hands in her own, and whispered, "I have been signing my name as Belivet for months… and I've been saying it to myself for even longer." She grazed her thumbs over Therese's knuckles and pulled her closer. "I truly meant it."
Therese's face remained tense in thought. Carol felt anxious as she waited for Therese to say whatever it was that was going on in her head. Did she hate the idea of Carol changing her last name? Was it too much? Should she have asked for permission? Carol was on the verge of a breakdown when, suddenly, Therese's face relaxed and she was beaming, dimples in full force.
"Mrs. Belivet," Therese said with a laugh. "Is this what a man feels like when their wife takes their name?
Carol felt relief flood through her entire body. "Therese Belivet, are you asking me to be your wife?"
Therese blushed and brought Carol's hands to her lips. "I think I am."
Carol let out something between a laugh and a sob, wrapped her arms around Therese and kissed her full on the mouth.