Chapter 34: New York, six months later
The lecture hall was almost empty now, except for a small group of students that were loudly discussing where they would go for a drink. Genevieve Cantrell smiled, remembering her own time as a student here.
She hadn't been in New York for a long time. She had consciously avoided going to the city, following the day she had moved her last possessions out of the small Brooklyn apartment she had shared with Therese for so many years. It had also meant not seeing most of her friends for a prolonged period, but she had accepted this as an unavoidable consequence of the break-up with Therese. Now, almost a year later, the wound that was left by the dismantling of their relationship still had not healed completely. However, she was back now, if only for a short time to deliver a lecture on domestic violence at the Columbia Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.
She was putting her notes and laptop into her shoulder bag, when she saw the blond woman who during her lecture had occupied one of the seats in the back row, approaching her. If her hiding in the back had been deliberate, it had been a poor attempt, because the woman had stood out in the small audience that had gathered for the lecture. Not only was she clearly older than most of the students, she was also exceptionally beautiful.
Not smiling, Genevieve turned her gaze from her bag to meet the crystal blue eyes of the tall woman now standing in front of her.
"Ms. Cantrell, I want to complement you on …"
"Don't bother, Carol, I know who you are."
Genevieve had recognized her right away. After Therese's admission she had fallen in love with Carol Ross Aird, she had reluctantly searched the Internet, soon discovering that pictures of Therese's alluring lover could be easily found. Not in the mood to be civilised to the woman who so clearly was part of the reasons why Therese had ended their relationship, she silently gloated when she saw Carol's bewilderment. It amused her to see this very poised woman search for words.
"Genevieve, I …"
Not knowing how to proceed, Carol's hesitant gaze found the soft brown eyes of the petite, red haired woman standing in front of her. Genevieve's face showed no emotions, but her eyes betrayed her. Carol saw anger there, mixed with grief.
"What do you want from me, Carol?"
Crossing her arms, Genevieve seemed to shield her body against Carol, who involuntarily towered above her. Carol raked her hand through her blonde curls, breathing deeply.
"It's Therese, she … she needs you."
After Therese's sudden appearance in Salt Lake City and her admission that, despite her earlier fears, she was ready to enter into a relationship with Carol, their lives had changed with dizzying speed. Carol had started the divorce proceedings, when to her great surprise Harge, who until then had been very non-cooperative, reluctantly promised to take a separation into consideration. It would undoubtedly take time before a definitive settlement could be reached, but there was movement now, which added to her growing feeling of change being possible.
"What makes you change your mind?"
They were standing next to each other, leaning against the fence around the school soccer field, watching a match of Rindy and her team. The girls were enjoying a well-deserved break, giving Carol room for a carefully conducted conversation with her husband, who most of the time was trying to evade her.
Harge kept his gaze fixed on the field, then sighed.
"I don't know. I guess because we can't go on like this much longer."
Knowing that it would be better not to press him, Carol waited for him to continue. He shook his head.
"It's not good for Rindy, this… "
Tentatively, Carol touched his arm, feeling his muscles tighten. Frowning, he turned his dark eyes towards her.
"I feel like we're in some kind of no-man's-land, Carol, waiting, until one of us starts to move. We don't even talk to each other... And I can see that Rindy feels that there is something wrong, can see that she's troubled by it, even worries if it's her fault …"
Although she was well aware of how much Harge loved his daughter, Carol was genuinely affected by his words and the way he was prepared to place Rindy's interests above his own.
"I know," she murmured. To her great dismay, she had also noticed that Rindy had become unnaturally quiet lately, more and more retreating into herself.
"So it's important to make things clear for her and for ourselves, to make her feel good again."
"And if that means a separation, then go ahead and start with the proceedings."
Carol saw how his eyes filled with tears. And inadvertently her heart went out to him, to Rindy and to their close knit family, that would soon be dismantled. But she also felt that a separation was exactly what was needed. For her, so she would no longer have to live against her grain. And for Rindy, to make her feel happy again. She tightened her grip on Harge's arm, then let go.
After this conversation and strengthened by their joint concerns about their daughter, some of their old closeness returned. Together, they talked with Rindy, sharing with her how things between them were changing and that this would mean that in the near future they would no longer be living together. Rindy had listened intently, especially when Carol made it clear that what was happening was not Rindy's fault.
"We love you, sweetheart and we will never hurt you."
Harge and Carol also made it clear that Rindy would have a great say in how the new living arrangements would be after the divorce became final. For now, she would stay with Harge in the house in the Foothill District: the school year was far from over yet and there were still many soccer matches to play.
After that, Carol had decided to go to New York and to stay there for a prolonged period. Abby generously lent her the Gerhardt apartment again: both Carol and Therese knew that living together was not yet an option and that they both needed their own space.
Financially, Carol did not need a job to be independent. But she knew she wanted to work and after several talks with Abby about her work at the women's shelter and with Helen, an old friend from Stanford who was now a lecturer at the Columbia Centre for Gender and Sexuality Law, she decided to leave her corporate law practice to switch to family law. This meant going back to university and, helped by her former track record, she enrolled at Columbia Law School. It was Therese's support and obvious joy about her coming to New York, that made Carol's sadness about leaving Rindy behind in Salt Lake City bearable.
There were several answers that Genevieve had expected, but not this one.
Her face showed surprise, disbelief even.
"I worry about Therese …" Carol sighed and closed her eyes.
"And I know this will sound ludicrous, but I'm asking you to help me."
Astounded, Genevieve remained silent. Flustered and feeling ill at ease in the now empty lecture hall, Carol pleaded:
"Look, will you have a coffee with me? I really need to talk to you."
To her great relief Genevieve nodded and after she had closed her bag, followed her to the little coffee shop outside the lecture hall. After Carol had bought two double espresso's at the counter, she joined the read haired woman, who had chosen a small table in a corner of the almost abandoned café.
For a while, both women remained silent. Cup in hand, Genevieve looked straight into Carol's ice-blue eyes. Unblinking, Carol returned her gaze. Buying the coffee had given her the opportunity to regain some of her confidence and if this was going to be a contest, she was not willing to give in too easily to this intense young woman.
Approaching Genevieve had certainly not been Carol's intention. When she received an invitation of the Centre to attend a lecture on domestic violence by Dr. G. Cantrell, she knew couldn't stay away. She wanted to see the woman who had been Therese's companion for so many years. But it was only after the lecture, that she realized that this was perhaps her only chance to speak to the person who probably knew Therese better than anyone, including herself.
Still staring into Genevieve's brown eyes, Carol realized that she had initiated this conversation. She coughed.
"I really appreciate this, Genevieve…"
Genevieve raised her eyebrows, waiting for Carol's next words. Carol put her cup down, then folded her lightly shaking hands around it.
"Therese and I … you, you know about us, of course …"
"Well, she … She has an opening soon, but this time in a prestigious gallery. She …"
"You want me to be there?", Genevieve interjected.
Her gaze was still unreadable. Carol hesitated.
"Well, yes … But there's more …"
"Look Carol, you have to be more specific."
Carol's eyes fixed on her hands, that were still gripping her cup.
"It's a great opportunity for her, this show. But it seems she doesn't care. She doesn't want to talk about it, will not make the definitive selection from her photo's, she's more distant than ever…"
Genevieve glanced at the tense woman sitting in front of her. And despite everything she suddenly felt touched by Carol's concerns, her obvious grief. She shrugged.
"It's a pattern … This gallery clearly believes in Therese's talent, something she cannot or will not accept, so she tries to convince them she's not worth their effort. You surely must recognize that … It's at moments like this that she loses her self-confidence and completely turns into herself. It's a way to protect herself against disappointments, even though these only exist in her own head."
Carol frowned, remembering the way Therese unexpectedly had pushed her away after their passionate first night together in New York.
"I think you may be right … it seems that whenever you come close, she backs away. Even now, when we've been together for almost a year…"
Feeling a jealous pang in her stomach after Carol's last words, Genevieve tried not to show her emotions.
"I don't know if she will ever change … the only thing you can do is to keep supporting her, stay with her… although in the end that didn't bring me any luck…"
Involuntarily, Carol placed her hand on Genevieve's arm.
"I'm so sorry…"
Genevieve looked at the elegant, pale hand touching the sleeve of her dark blue jacket. She smiled wryly, then pushed her chair backwards.
"I really have to go."
Already standing, she reached into her bag and took out a small business card.
"Just mail me the time and place for the opening. I'll see what I can do."
Before Carol could thank her, she turned and left the coffee shop.