"Love of mine, someday you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the 'no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks,
Then I'll follow you into the dark."
~Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Follow You into the Dark"

November 1998

There was a time when she didn't think she would be here, when this place was just a twinkle of a dream that she thought would never become a reality. For a long time, she thought that she would be constantly working for someone, never being able to branch out into her own. But here she was on Lafayette Street, in an office that sees a fair amount of success. Grace had climbed through the open window and was sitting on the fire escape, wrapped her sweater tight around herself to keep away as much as the November chill as possible. She had found a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in Karen's desk (on a whim, she decided that this moment called for one and knew that Karen had to have a pack in there somewhere), and lit one as soon as she sat down outside, embracing the smoke that always reminded her of the woman who now spends her days sitting in near silence across the room from her. She let out a deep sigh before taking another drag.

This wasn't going to be easy. She knew this.

Karen walked into the office and was surprised by how different it looked in the blue-black night. She had never been here past five o'clock in the afternoon, and she wondered if it was the time of day or the situation that made the state of the place give her a chill (oh, come on, Karen, you know the reason; you know it's because of her, you know it's because you don't know what her motives are). Her desk, while sparse, looked like it had been shuffled around a bit, something that she couldn't remember doing, but something that she didn't worry too much about. For a moment, she thought that she had arrived first, that Grace was still on her way. Karen knew that the red head had first moved in with that guy, Danny (it never felt like a right fit to her, but what did she know? She was merely a former lover, who could get a little bitter when she wanted to), before moving further uptown recently to live with her best friend. But it was odd to her to see this place completely empty, without another soul inhabiting it.

It was almost as if she shouldn't be here.

She turned to walk out the door, certain that Grace had decided that their meeting tonight wasn't a good idea and backed out, but as soon as she had her hand on the doorknob, she heard a faint cough from the window. A few steps forward, and Karen could see Grace on the fire escape steps with a cigarette between her fingers, elegantly framed by the night. She walked slowly, quietly, so she wouldn't disturb Grace until she had to. God, she looked beautiful. She hated when those thoughts would creep in during the daytime, when they were working and they didn't talk about anything outside of design. But she figured it was a special exception tonight. She could let one slip. She walked closer and closer to the window until she was in the red head's earshot.

"Can I bum one?" It had been thirteen years since she asked Grace that question, and to be honest, she forgot exactly what her first words to the red head were. Even so, the sentence seemed to carry some weight, held a significance that she might now have noticed right away.

Grace jumped at the voice, and when it registered that it belonged to Karen, she handed her the pack and the lighter. "It's been a while since I've wanted one. I need to get used to it again. Take them. They're yours anyway," she said with a blush, knowing she had just revealed that she stole them in the first place. "Sorry about that," she added as an afterthought.

Karen smiled. "It's okay." She maneuvered herself through the window and sat on the fire escape steps above Grace as she grabbed a cigarette and lit it. She was sitting in a way so that Grace could lean back against her body if she wanted to. She knew it probably wouldn't happen, but part of the reason was for the possibility. The other part was the fact that it might be easier to talk to Grace if she couldn't directly face her, if she only had to look at her back. It was a cheap move, but she found comfort in it.

"I thought that this would be better. I didn't want to chance waking Will up, especially since it's so late. I'm sorry about that too, by the way. I didn't mean to call so late. I just couldn't sleep, and then these thoughts wouldn't let go of me. So I'm sorry. About a lot of things, actually."

Silence. Karen looked down at the red rose in her hand. She had taken it out of the vase right after Grace had called, entirely out of instinct, and when she climbed through the window, she was careful not to let Grace see it, because she wasn't absolutely sure that she wanted to give it to her anyway. She always associated the flower with the red head, and she knew that if she gave it to her now, it may not be entirely appropriate. But she didn't know what else to do to break the silence that had suddenly become thick and impossible to bear. Karen reached over and held the rose in front of Grace for what felt like an eternity.

Without warning, she felt a tug on the stem from Grace's touch, and she released the flower into the grasp of the red head. She just wished she could see if Grace was smiling when she held it. "Sort of a peace offering, I guess," she said softly.

"What for?" Grace asked.

"I'm not quite sure yet. For everything, maybe. The fact that I didn't tell you I was going to meet Stan that day"—that day, because they didn't need a further explanation—"the fact that I couldn't tell you what really happened. The fact that I let you go."

"That wasn't your fault. It was mine. I told you not to talk. If you would have explained yourself, I wouldn't have listened anyway, I was in a really bad headspace that night. That's also what I wanted to apologize for. You know, besides stealing your cigarettes." Grace let a little smile play across her face as she said that. Karen couldn't see it, but she heard it, and she loved it. Grace sighed, and realized that she couldn't postpone this anymore. "I got your message," she said.

"My message?" Karen asked. "But I haven't called you recently. Anything I need to tell you, I usually tell you in the office." Usually. There were other things that Karen needed to tell her. But the time has long since passed for her to say it unharmed.

Grace tried not to get down over the fact that Karen didn't remember; it was four years ago, after all, and Grace could not remember many of the things she did four years ago. She tried to refresh Karen's memory. "It was a year after I…you know." She stopped for a moment, knowing that she, if not both of them, needed a moment to recover, as if the mere mention of that night was a massive blow to their hearts. "You said that you had gotten engaged to him in your message. You told me what really happened, what I didn't see. I just never had the heart to listen to it until tonight. I don't even know what got me thinking about it. A mixture of things, I guess. If I had just listened when you tried to explain…If I had listened to that message when I first found it…" She couldn't finish. She didn't have it in her.

Karen knew in an instant what Grace was talking about as soon as she said "It was a year after…" And in that instant, she felt the lump in her throat, the tears starting to well up. She didn't realize this is what Grace wanted to see her about. And she was truly at a loss for words. She hadn't thought about that message for four years, but still knew it so well. One last plea to turn their circumstances around, wording it in a way that didn't say it outright. She remembered how broken she felt when Grace never called her back, even though she never expected a response. And she was too caught up in the memory to respond. But it didn't matter anyway. Grace did it for her.

"I don't know what to do anymore, Kare." Her voice was starting to crack, Karen could tell. But it didn't stop her. "I'll have bouts where I'm perfectly fine. But something eventually sets me off, and it always brings me back to you. Always. I can't help it. I feel like my heart is going to follow you until I die. It already has for thirteen years. And I wanted to help you when you asked for the job, but I have to look at you every day, and it kills me. I just wish…I don't know, I just sometimes wish that we could wipe the slate clean. Not to forget everything, but to make it okay."

Karen let out a soft laugh. "Wipe the slate clean," she said. "Guess I'm starting with my marriage. I signed divorce papers tonight." With that, Grace turned around so that she could face Karen. Tears stained the red head's cheeks, but Karen didn't point it out, because she knew that she was going to look the same shortly. "He gave them to me, but if he hadn't have done it, I would have. I never loved him. Not like I love you. And I still love you." She didn't mean for that to spill from her lips. But it was out there now, and she feared the repercussions. She kept talking, not ready to hear Grace's response just yet. "I married him so I wouldn't be alone, because when I was alone, I missed you. And that didn't even work out. Even when I was married, I missed you, and now that it's over, I miss you more. I'd follow you if you wanted me to. But so much time has gone by that I could never let you know."

Grace gave her a half-smile. "So why are we torturing ourselves? Why are we making it so hard? I've wanted nothing more than to wrap your arms around me. I've wanted nothing more than to know where I stand. I miss you. All of you. I don't think I can take much more of this if nothing changes."

Karen reached down, wiped a stray tear from Grace's cheek. She wanted so desperately for so long to get back to the way things were. It's all she's ever wanted. If you were going to make the move, Karen, the time was now. "If I ask you to take my hand, would you trust me?"

It was something she had been dying to ask. She didn't care if it was cutting to the chase, she didn't care if it was better to wait. She waited for too damn long to waste time now.

Without hesitation, Grace slid her hand into Karen's. It was a touch she missed, a touch she still couldn't get enough of. "I always have." She kept her grasp on Karen's hand as she turned around and leaned her back against Karen's body. Five years away from that warmth, but it was just as perfect as she remembered. This is how it should have been all along. It shouldn't have taken so long to get back to this. But that was the way they were, it's the way it always went. "If we're really going to do this," Grace started, "what's our plan?"

It made Karen smile to hear Grace say that. "Aside from moving out of Stan's house? I just plan on making up for lost time. Giving you everything you deserve, and everything I couldn't in those in-between years." She kissed the crown of Grace's head before resting her cheek on it. "I'm not going to let go this time."

Grace moved in closer. She believed Karen's promise. Nothing was ever certain. But things were different this time. There weren't complications. There wasn't going to be any sneaking around. It would be easier. It would finally be their time. "Just one thing," she said as she started to smile. "Please don't go broke by the red roses."

Karen laughed with her whole body and squeezed Grace's hand. "I'll try not to," she said. "I love you, Grace."

The red head looked up, planted a kiss on Karen's cheek. "I love you, too."

And they stayed still for a moment, in the warmth of their silence, taking everything in.