Shane decided it was probably best to give Carmen some space, confident that her friend would reemerge when she was ready and/or needed something. Sure enough, at around 5:30 that evening, Carmen ventured downstairs, apparently hungry once again.
"You're still here." Carmen wasn't surprised that Shane had stuck around. She wasn't much of anything.
"Dinner?" was all Shane asked in response. She already had spaghetti cooking.
"Yes," Carmen hesitated. "Please," she finally tacked on at the end and the word came out bitterly, like she resented the notion that she might still be expected to be polite.
Carmen sat herself at the kitchen island while Shane finished preparing the food.
"You know that you're a horrid cook, right?" With a playful or teasing tone, the question would have been harmless. But Carmen asked the question with quite a bit of malice.
Shane turned from where she stood at the stove with a curious smile, observing the sullen Latina. Leave it to Carmen to skip sadness and go straight to the anger part of the grieving process. But the smile quickly fell from Shane's face; she could see, probably better than most, how fragile Carmen actually was in this moment, how close she was to breaking.
Shane placed the plate of food in front of Carmen and took a seat at the table. She didn't mind taking a few punches, but she also didn't feel obligated to dignify Carmen's spitefulness with a response.
Carmen took a few bites of the pasta and then threw down her fork. "Yup, this sucks."
"My apologies," Shane murmured.
Carmen realized that Shane was being a good friend, and she knew that she owed her a lot. But she was so indiscriminately furious. Life was officially fucked up and she was sick of dealing with it. She felt close to hitting someone. And Shane was closest.
"How can you even stand to be here?" Carmen questioned. She was actually curious. Carmen knew Shane was uncomfortable and wondered why she hadn't run away yet.
Shane cocked her head and tried to make eye contact with the woman sitting across from her. Carmen resisted momentarily, then finally gave in, allowing dark brown orbs to meet piercing green ones. Shane had never really needed many words to communicate. It was simple. She was here because she cared. And she trusted that Carmen, always particularly adept at reading her, would see that.
Carmen rolled her eyes at Shane's sincerity. "Doesn't it hurt? Knowing you did this to me too? You know, I was worse after you left."
Shane stood up at Carmen's words and turned her back on the Latina.
"What? You don't want to hear about it? You've got to be wondering."
Carmen rose and moved to stand directly behind Shane.
"I literally wanted to die. I couldn't be awake, because the pain of losing you felt like being burned alive, and frozen to death, and exploding, and collapsing in on myself, all at once. And I couldn't sleep because the dreams. Shane, the dreams were driving me crazy."
Carmen whispered the words at Shane's back.
"Did you know that I couldn't have sex for over a year? The vulnerability. I couldn't let anyone close enough, give anyone any part of myself. When clothes started to come off, I would shut down, start hyperventilating, have a panic attack. One time, I started having chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack. The chick had to take me to the hospital."
Shane flinched, and Carmen hated how much she loved it.
"Look at me… Shane, look at me," Carmen ordered.
Slowly, painfully, Shane turned. Her jaw was clenched impossibly tight and her eyes were wide with what looked like terror. It was like the car crash that you can't look away from. Shane wanted Carmen to stop, but she couldn't help but hang on every word. Because there was always that little bit of Orpheus in her that wanted to look back over her shoulder and see what she'd left behind.
"See this?" Carmen asked, lifting up her hair to show a nasty scar right along her hairline that she was able to hide with her bangs. "They ruled it an accident. I never told anyone that I stomped on the accelerator and ran myself into the guardrail."
"Carmen," Shane whispered the name.
"What? That wasn't what you wanted? What do you want when you leave Shane? What do you feel? Anything other than relief? Is it easy? That moment when you knew you were letting me walk down the aisle alone, was it easy? I've been trying to figure it out. Because, you know Shane, you do have a heart. And a soul. And a moral compass. So I'm trying to figure out how someone with all of those things could do what you did."
"You know what, don't answer those questions. There's nothing you can say. At least with Olivia, I know why she left. She had the decency to sit down and tell me, pretend to have an excuse for why she could break me."
The two women continued to face each other, and as she talked, Carmen inched closer.
"You know what you're gonna do now, Shane? You're gonna teach me how to be more like you. Because I'm tired of caring and getting hurt. I'm tired of feeling weak. I'm tired of letting feelings and emotions tell me what to do and what to say."
Carmen now stood so near Shane that she could feel Shane's breath on her face. She could have sworn that there was a field of electricity between them; the heat and tension and energy were so palpable. What was it that made Shane so magnetic? The closer Carmen got, the more strongly she felt pulled. She could feel Shane watching her, but not just looking at her, looking into her, like she could tease out truths Carmen didn't even know existed.
Shane knew she couldn't move, and was pretty sure she couldn't speak. She just studied the emotions as they flickered across Carmen's face.
"And you know what else I'm tired of? I am so freaking tired of making love."
Carmen took the final step and leaned into Shane's body. Shane's breathing hitched at the contact. She recognized that she needed to walk away. But she was fascinated, absorbed by Carmen the way women had always absorbed her.
"What does that even mean?" Carmen continued. "Making love? No. Fuck that. I wanna fuck. I wanna get mine."
With that, Carmen shoved Shane. The hairdresser stumbled backward into the kitchen counter and Carmen stepped into her. She placed her hands on either side of Shane, pinning the taller woman there, and then using the counter for leverage, rolled her body against Shane's. Carmen looked up from where she was pressed into Shane's chest. She paused a moment, to see if Shane would dip her head and initiate the kiss that Carmen was waiting for.
But Shane remained frozen, staring at Carmen, searching for self-control and trying to ignore the tingle where Carmen's body touched hers. Shane was ill equipped to turn down sex on her best day. To make matters worse, it was Carmen. Shane had always, would always find Carmen mouth-wateringly sexy. Their prior relationship was at least partially based on Shane's utter inability to stay away from the Latina, even when Carmen asked for things Shane was hesitant to give. Apparently little had changed, because Shane was definitely hesitant to give Carmen self-destructive rebound sex. And yet, she was still sandwiched against the kitchen counter.
Shane had taken too long. Carmen snaked a hand up, grabbed Shane's neck, and yanked her head down. Violently, Carmen brought Shane's mouth to hers and despite the questionable motivations and problematic implications, the moment when their lips met remained laden with the chemistry and passion that seemed to exist effortlessly and endlessly between them.
Carmen brought her other hand up to the back of Shane's head, and running her fingers through short, brown hair, pulled Shane forward, further into her. The kiss built slowly; Shane, though tentative in her response, was quickly acclimating to Carmen's lips. And when Carmen slipped a tongue into Shane's mouth, well, Shane promptly learned to appreciate the feel of that as well.
Shane's arms snuck around Carmen's waist and her hands reached longingly for the ass that she hadn't squeezed in three and a half years. Halting her descent and clenching her fists against her growing desire, Shane searched for the resolve to stop this. Said resolve came with the realization that Shane was on her second chance with Carmen, and probably wouldn't get a third one. If she fucked up this time, she wouldn't get to remain in Carmen's life. And as much as Shane might want sex with Carmen, she wanted Carmenmore.
With that, Shane's hands suddenly changed direction and flew to Carmen's shoulders where she grabbed the smaller woman and gently, but abruptly, pushed her away. Their lips broke with a smack and Carmen stepped backwards in a bit of daze, somewhat unsure of how she had gone from kissing Shane to not.
"Carmen, I'm sorry. I don't know if this is a good idea."
Carmen glanced at Shane's hands resting on her shoulders and finally realized what was happening. About 18 reactions occurred to Carmen, ranging from indifference to sadness, before she settled on wrath. Wrath always came easiest.
"Are you fucking serious?" Carmen asked indignantly. She shrugged off Shane's hands, turned and took two steps toward the door, then turned back around. Brandishing a pointer finger in Shane's face, Carmen began to shout. "You're good for one thing Shane. Sex. It's all anyone, your friends, your girlfriends, can rely on you for. So, I'm asking you for it. It's actually the only thing I've ever asked of you. Just do it. It's not like you have standards or personal dignity."
Carmen re-approached Shane, apparently ready to initiate contact once again, assuming her argument had proved convincing. But Shane held up an arm and stopped Carmen's advance.
Carmen's eyes flashed with temporary hatred. "What is it? Am I too fucked up for you right now? Am I reminding you of Jenny?"
Carmen knew she had gone too far, but she couldn't stop. She wanted to see the hurt in Shane's eyes. She wanted a mirror for the pain she felt. She held her breath to see what Shane might do.
But Shane was spent. She was just too emotionally exhausted to do this anymore. Closing her eyes and shaking her head, she side-stepped Carmen and strode to the door, out of the kitchen, grabbing her car keys before marching through the front door and out of the house, leaving Carmen behind her without a word of goodbye.
Carmen followed Shane as she sped to the exit.
"Awesome Shane! The second best thing you're good at. Running away. It was nice knowing you," Carmen yelled after Shane's disappearing figure, before slamming the door and turning back into her empty house.
Now that Shane was gone, Carmen wasn't sure what to do with herself. She wandered back into the kitchen and momentarily considered cleaning up the remnants of Shane's attempted dinner, but the idea of being productive held little appeal when she felt so god damn destroyed. So she moved instead into the living room and flopped down onto the couch. She didn't want to do anything, but she also didn't want to do nothing, scared of what her mind might wander to if it wasn't occupied. So she began counting the dots in her stucco ceiling and successfully lost herself in the task, finding relief in the near meditative state she reached.
Carmen was roused from this trivial activity about 80 minutes later by a pounding on her door. Carmen rolled onto her front and stuffed her face into the couch cushions; there was no way she was going to answer that door.
Clearly, whoever it was had no intention of heeding her attempts to ignore them. After a few more knocks, Carmen heard the door open and the intruder bustled into the house. They moved into the kitchen, and just as Carmen began to wonder if she should be concerned, she heard a voice whisper, "check the living room." It was Shane. "Seriously?" Carmen wondered. What the fuck was Shane doing here? Had she not made it obvious enough that she didn't want to see Shane again?
Carmen lifted herself from the couch, prepared to do all but murder the woman who walked through the door, when into the room breezed… her mother. Carmen blinked. Was she dreaming? Before she had time to process the series of events, Mercedes was on the couch, wrapping her daughter in a hug.
"Carmecita, I'm here. Don't worry. I'm here."
Carmen sunk instinctively into the maternal familiarity. Her mother's arms and scent were so inherently comforting. Carmen realized how tense, how bottled she'd been for the past few days, trying to keep it all in and numb herself to any pain. But with her mother there, Carmen felt herself relax. And as soon as she relaxed, she broke.
"Mama," Carmen gasped through the tears that were already increasing in number and intensity.
"I know, baby. Shhh, I know." Mercedes cradled and rocked her daughter, letting Carmen sob into her shoulder.
"W-w-why?" Carmen whispered shakily, the question muffled by Mercedes' embrace. She raised her head to repeat the question, her eyes already red and her cheeks tear-streaked. "Why? Tell me why."
"Carmen, life doesn't always have immediate answers. You know this."
"No, you have to tell me. Why?"
Mercedes just shook her head and pulled Carmen back into her arms. "One day, baby, one day."
Even though Shane had seen this coming, it didn't make it any less heartbreaking as she watched from the doorway. It was the decision she'd been most sure of in the past few days, bringing in Carmen's mother for reinforcements. She'd driven directly to Mercedes' house after leaving Carmen's. All it had taken was two words of explanation—Olivia left—to get Mercedes in the car.
Now, Shane tried to think of something she could do, some way she could help. Just as she had decided to head into the kitchen to make some tea, Carmen's mother turned to her.
"Chane, please, you can go."
It wasn't a request; it was an order. Shane was taken aback by Mercedes' directness and mistook the dismissal as disapproval. It hurt, because as much as Mercedes was allowed to disapprove of Shane, she had hoped that perhaps she was beginning to work her way back into the good graces of the woman she had almost considered a mother.
"I-I, well, I thought-"
Mercedes tone softened. "I know you want to be here for her, but you've done enough, more than enough for now. Go home. Rest."
Shane was relieved at the gratefulness, the acknowledgement of her efforts from the past few days. She blew out a breath and couldn't help a small smile from playing across her face. It made her unexpectedly, but instantly happy to learn that Mercedes didn't actually hate her.
"Let me know if you need anything?"
"Si, of course," Mercedes answered. "Maybe, tomorrow, you come by for brunch. Bring friends. We'll try for a more…happy mood."
Shane flashed an even bigger grin. "Will do."
Shane turned to head out of the room, but Mercedes called her back one more time.
"Chane, you-," Mercedes faltered, unable to say all she was thinking. "I forgive you."
Shane stared at the woman on the couch. The words were heavy, and yet the way they lightened her, filled her like a balloon felt miraculous. Her eyes welled with tears. Was that the first time someone had ever said that to her and truly meant it? Shane nodded once, then turned out of the room before the tears could spill down her cheeks.