The fourth…and possibly final chapter…I tend not to write long chaptered stories, so forgive me. However, I
have a sequel in mind, if, when the theme of this story becomes apparent, you aren't completely scared away.
Hit the Road Jack and don'tcha come back
No more no more no more no more,
Hit the Road Jack and don'tcha come back
No more… ("Hit the Road Jack" Ray Charles)
"I…I…" What was she supposed to say? Karen could tell that Mary was seeking an answer for a different reason than she claimed she did, but what reason was it? It was best to be honest, but, she was afraid of the consequences…
"I don't know if I love him now, Mary. I feel like our relationship hasn't progressed that far. We just need to get to know each other more before I can know if I love him for sure."
Mary stood up, the light breeze playing around with her shiny black hair, a soft smile on her lips, "I'm sorry, it was probably not very polite of me to ask you that kind of question. Once you know…then he should be the first to know." In the moonlight Karen could have sworn that there were tears in her friends eyes, but Mary turned around so abruptly, that she couldn't get a good enough look.
"It's late, and I'm tired. I hope you'll understand if I go home early, Karen?" She was tucking her hair behind her ears and straightening out her dress, her back to the other young woman.
"Yes…" Karen murmured softly, sitting in silence for a long time after Mary had left.
Time passed. Karen never did arrange a birthday party and ignored the cards she was sent; leaving the presents wrapped. Her parents were deeply worried about her, but Karen couldn't put into words what was bothering her. Maybe it was because she didn't know what it was.
People came by to see her…Rick…Jack…Elli…Ann…Mary…Mary. That was what was wrong. Something was bothering Mary and Karen somehow felt that it was her fault. A week had passed since her birthday and Mary had dropped by once, but Karen had refused to see her. Or anyone else, but she could only imagine the hurt her friend must have felt. The furthered isolation. Karen must go and see Mary. Yes, that was it. She would find out what was going on, and then…and then she could swing herself out of this funk and Mary out of her depression.
Karen entered the library to find Mary off in a corner, reading silently. The brunette/blonde did not say anything as she quietly walked through the room, stopping a few feet away from her friend. Taking a deep breath, she spoke,
"Mary, I need you to talk to me."
Mary did not respond at first, taking her time to stick a bookmark in her book and set it aside. Even then she did not look directly at Karen, but rather off at the row of bookshelves distantly.
"I...I don't think I can. I am afraid that it will ruin our friendship," she said softly, her gray eyes downcast.
Karen frowned darkly, "As a friend, I would think that you could confide in me. I guess not." She turned to leave, but couldn't help pausing when Mary stood up.
"I want to." Mary looked confused, maybe even a little sad, but Karen was tired of being left out.
"Listen, whatever it is, if our friendship is strong, it will be able to handle it. If you want to tell me, than I beg you to."
Mary shook her head, "I can't, Karen. At least, not now…"
Karen let out a long sigh, putting one hand over her eyes for a moment, as if to banish the headache that was forming, "It's either now…or never…I can't move on, and I need to. So make a choice."
Mary said nothing, staring at the wooden floor in misery. Karen resisted the impulse to go and hug her friend, and comfort her; tell her that she would be there, but if Mary couldn't confide in Karen, than Karen couldn't stay. Not now. Not like this… The door clicked behind her with a note of finality, and for a brief moment, the world was silent…
It was early winter when Jack asked Karen if she would like to go for a walk to the Goddess's pond. Karen pushed her own feelings of remorse aside and agreed to come; it always cheered him up so when she did things with him. She could always be there for him if he asked her to be his wife…but in all honesty, could he be there for her as well? Was she doing this for herself…or for him?
As the climbed the hill throw the snowdrifts, Jack made a comment about how cold it was. Karen had not really noticed before; being absorbed in her thoughts, but she did find that she was shivering. He kindly offered her his jacket and she accepted.
"Winter is so barren…" his voice was slightly louder in the cool stillness. "Lifeless…" Karen shook her head, dislodging a few snowflakes,
"I think it's the most beautiful season of the year."
Jack looked puzzled, "Why is that? There is no color in this season…no warmth…"
Karen tilted her head up and smiled slightly, "I think it is beautiful in its cold splendor of whirling crystals…light glinting off the snow…mornings where the sunrise fills up the whole land… The lake freezes over, so that you can skate if you want to, and there are snowball fights. You say there is no color, but there is the sharp green of pine trees, the merry red and orange of candle flames, the tint of blue over the coming evening. In fact, sometimes I wonder why so many people hate winter, for to me, it is the most colorful, most enchanting…season of them all."
Jack shrugged, "I suppose you have a few points…" He sounded doubtful, like he didn't really agree with all she said, which annoyed Karen. If he didn't like winter, it was fine for him to say it, but saying something just to please her was irritating.
They were at the top of the hill, now. Jack ran ahead to the pond, smiling and gesturing wildly for Karen to follow. Wondering what he was so excited about, Karen followed, though slower and more constrained. She liked it here, but she was bored. What were they doing here?
"Karen, I received a letter from my father in the middle of fall…"
Karen swallowed, wondering how she hadn't expected this earlier. So that is what Jack was about to do. Propose. Marriage. To Jack. Did she know what she wanted right now? Would she be able to answer? Would he dodge around the subject, or just ask?
"My father wants me to sell the farm and leave town at the end of the year unless I get settled down soon. He wants me to marry, and I…"
Karen's heart was pounding in her chest, but she forced herself into an outwardly calm composure. Still not sure about what her response would be to his proposal, she held her breath and waited.
"I think I've found someone that I want to marry. Not to stay here, but because I actually found someone who I could spend my life with."
Karen flipped her hair back, sending a flurry of snowflakes up into the air, swirling like a thousand diamonds in the midday sunlight.
"And who would that be?" she tried as hard as she could, but Karen's voice fumbled and faltered. Here it came…
"You, Karen. I think I'm in love with you, and I want to marry you." He reached into his rucksack and pulled out a blue feather, "Will you accept my offer?"
It came like a wave of memory and emotion, intertangled with confusion, loss, sorrow… Being with Jack, being with Rick…being hurt…neither had understood her. A revelation, as clear as day… They were there for her, but not in the way that Karen needed. Only Mary was. Mary was the only person out of them that Karen needed. In that moment, Mary was the only person in the world Karen needed. She did not love Jack. She did not want to marry him, or any other bachelor that came knocking at her door. Karen did not, in fact, want to get married right now. But she did know this, in that one moment, she was in love. With Mary.
Had this come to her season more, Karen would have been sickened, doubtful, definitely confused. But it no longer mattered anymore, because her heart needed to heal, and the only one that could heal it was Mary. And if that was what the Goddess had intended for her, then heck, she was going to follow her heart, no matter where it lead…
He looked surprised, hurt, and slightly forlorn, "Why?"
Karen reached out and touched his cheek, feeling slight pity for him, "I'm not in love with you, and I never was. At first I thought it was just because our relationship was young and needed time to grow, but now I realize…I'm just not comfortable around you the way I should be…and I think you deserve someone who will be happy with you, if you understand what I'm trying to say…"
Jack nodded, slightly grim, "It hurts to hear that, but somehow I suspected it."
It was Karen's turn to be surprised, "What do you mean?"
Jack smiled, his eyes sad, "All those times you opted to be with…others than me. I knew that if we truly had a relationship...that things would probably have been different. But you love someone, so go to her…you deserve to be with someone you love…"
"You know who it is, too, don't you?" So he wasn't as clueless as she given him credit for…
"Does it matter? Go, please. I need some time alone, but you need someone right now. Find that person." His voice was tight, breaking slightly. Karen nodded, giving him a light farewell kiss on the cheek. An apology, perhaps…for her treatment of him…and a promise, that she would find her way to the end of the maze in her heart.
The streets were bare this time of year. There were only a few people about, and it was quiet. Peaceful. Karen wished that she could somehow fit into it, but it was awkward now, going to Mary's house. She felt…unwelcome now. The things Karen had said, the things Mary had said…
As Karen raised her fist to knock on the door, she heard Mary's mother shriek from within, "Gray proposed? Oh, that's wonderful, Mary! I'm so happy. The first marriage in Mineral Town!" Looking through the window, Karen could see the proud parents crowded around their glowing daughter and her heart broke. In Mary's hands was a blue feather… Karen walked away without knocking, knowing in her heart of hearts that she should be happy for Mary, but not quite succeeding.
A few days later they came upon each other in the Supermarket. There was a formality between them, a wedge unlike before. Anna happily bubbled on about the wedding arrangements, but Mary and Karen stood in silence, not looking at each other. When it came time for Mary to leave, Karen gave her a nod of farewell, unable to vocalize her feelings.
"I guess it's time to move on…" Karen thought to herself, fingering her invitation to the wedding and wondering if she would go at all. No, she would go. She would be there for Mary, be happy for Mary…
The day came and Karen could not bring herself to get out of bead. Sasha would not let her sleep in, however,
"Wake up, Karen. You don't want to miss Mary's wedding, do you?"
Karen sighed, and pulled on her clothing, walking towards the church in a dead kind of stupor, her thoughts fading away in the silence. Her heart could not move on, not like this. No! She couldn't. She had to do something, now. She had to make it to the wedding…I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
Karen was running now, running for herself, and for peace of mind.
I should get on, forget you but why would I want to
It didn't matter now, all that at happened. All that mattered was Mary.
I know we said goodbye, anything else would have been confused
Because, without Mary…Karen would be lost. Even if it wasn't a normal romance.
But I want to see you again ("Sand in My Shoes" Dido)
Even if it was…irrational…
She slammed the doors open, bringing a cold gust of air in with her. Mary's family was there, and so was Gray's. There was the Mayor…May…Stu…even Jack. He looked at her sadly, but gave her a look that clearly said, "The world isn't stopping for you, Karen. Do something."
"…or forever hold your peace…" Carter continued, as Anna violently gestured for Karen to take a seat. But Karen knew that line. And she didn't intend to stay, anyway.
Everyone's eyes were on her, boring into her soul with the surprise and anger that she knew as well, but for once, would face head on. Ignoring everyone, she spoke directly to Mary, her voice filling the stunned silence,
"I was confused when you spoke to me, Mary. I didn't know what you meant, and without realizing it, I was hurting you, for I think, if this is not wishful thinking, that I know what you wanted to say to me, but couldn't. You asked of me what I could not answer, but something happened that made me realize…I have always been in love, but it was never with Jack. I cannot move on until I let you know…that I love you…"
There was a loud buzzing echoing through the church as Karen turned and walked back outside into the cold morning. She did not care. Karen had always been an irrational person…she had always been foolish, always been flawed…but in some ways, she no longer cared. Because, at least for a little while, there had been someone who hadn't cared about her faults. And that…that had been worth it.
Reaching the Rose Square, Karen automatically turned toward the beach, her place of solace and of comfort in her stormy life. She could not go to the library for that anymore… Mary's birthday was at the end of the season…how she would have loved to celebrate it together. How she rued pushing Mary away now…
Mary's voice. Karen turned, her eyes moving from the trashcan, to the bench...to her. Mary had obviously run out of the church foremost, because she hadn't changed out of her wedding attire. Luckily, it wasn't too fancy, so the snow wouldn't ruin it. In fact, Mary looked like a beautiful young ice princess, a crown and all…
"I've ruined your wedding at my expense," Karen called out softly, "How selfish I have been…to you, to Jack…to everyone…" Mary walked over to her, her footsteps barely audible, even though there was nothing else to hear out in the open.
"Karen, you…you told me that you loved me…" Mary looked bemused, slightly dazed, "What do you mean?"
Karen laughed sadly, "I told you what love was. You asked me if I loved Jack. I didn't. The person that I loved, was you…"
Mary looked almost hopeful, taking another step forward, "I only ever wanted to be with you, Karen. But I thought you loved Jack, so I couldn't tell you. I couldn't…"
Karen reached out towards Mary, as if to see that she was real, "I understand now. It's ok. I need you, but if you can't accept all that has transpired, than I will never speak of this again. Mary shook her head,
"Nonsense, Karen, I need to be with you just as much," She pulled her arms around Karen in a warm embrace, "This is irrational…"
Karen smiled and buried her face in Mary's hair; only then could she safely let out the tears she had holding back without realizing them. "Does it matter?"
"Not in the least..."
It was spring, now. Karen and Mary were helping Gotz put together some furniture that they would be putting in the mountain cottage he was building for them. Mary had her hair tied back in a ponytail, her sleeves rolled up, hammering away energetically. She was a strong person, that Mary, in body, in mind…she was the only person Karen ever wanted to be with, and that was ok, even if life wouldn't ever quite be the same…
Karen climbed down the ladder, a bucket of paint in one hand. She leaned over to give Mary a kiss on the forehead,
"Did I ever tell you how much I love you?"
Mary laughed and brushed Karen away impatiently, having to concentrate on not hitting her thumb with the hammer, "Many times, Karen, many times…"
Karen grinned and set the paint aside, going over to the sink to wash her hands, "And I won't ever let you forget it…"
Ending Note: Many people are uncomfortable with gay or lesbian people, in marriage, simply as a pairing, or
even in fan fiction. I myself, mostly find it offensive in fan fiction if it is written as slash, because either way it
alters the public's perspective of people that…chose a different way of life from them. Heterosexuals and
homosexuals are all people, and I tried to write this out in a non-offensive way to show that. I am not lesbian
myself, but I know those who are, and they are perfectly good people. So if you are uncomfortable about
homosexuals, think about why you are before being so quick to knock them down.