Somehow they managed to make their way to Luce's flat. Between weaving their way to the cab to fetch Luce's luggage and pay the driver, dragging the bags to Rachel's parents' car and sitting in that traffic jam for over an hour, the experience was something they would both like to forget. Luce sat on her sofa with Rachel by her side. Although spending all that time pressed up against Rachel was pretty pleasant, Luce mused.
They were both flying high on adrenaline then, and there was little they could do about it, what with Rachel's parents in the front and Ella in the back; three people sharing a seat that was meant for two. So they rested their hands in each others' laps, enjoyed each others' company and participated in conversation that got awkward- really awkward at times. And now that they were alone at last, the adrenaline has settled, replaced by thoughts. Heavy thoughts.
"How could I do this to him? How can I just stab the poor man in the heart?" Rachel murmured while gazing off into the corner of the room. "I'm not talking about this morning. Not what went on this morning. I'm not talking about us, Luce," she added, "I'm talking about everything up until now. Sometimes you just live your life without actually thinking. You don't listen to yourself. And then you wonder where you went wrong." Her voice trailed off.
"How many times did I repeat the same words. 'He's my best friend.' It never really hit me. Do you know what I said to Hec just last night?," Rachel made a sharp turn to face Luce and leaned in a bit to make her point.
"I told him he was my best friend, and that it's enough. That it's always been enough and will continue to be enough. That is how I wounded him. Because only being best friends is not enough in a marriage. I led him to think I loved him. And I did. I still do. But in a different way than he has always loved me." Rachel pulled herself into the corner of the sofa, opposite from Luce and hugged her knees to her chest. Their gaze met, and Luce saw Rachel's eyes glistening with tears. As much as she wanted to pull Rachel into a hug, she realized that Rachel needed her space right now.
"I have always loved him. Like a brother. I have always cared about him and wanted the best for him. I love him in the same way I love my sister. And I never realized that before." Then with a chuckle she added, "I said it all the time, yet I never realized it. All we were is best friends. I never knew what real love is until I met you, Luce. And I denied Hec the opportunity to find real love. I hurt him by not leaving before so he can find his true soul mate. All I wish for is that he could forgive me and that we can continue to be friends. But I won't blame him if he won't. I won't blame him if he never wants to see me again."
The tears slipped down Rachel's cheeks as she moved towards Luce and locked her in a long and comforting hug.
"Do you honestly think Hec will never want to see you again?" Luce asked. Rachel just hugged her tighter. She'd have to face Hec and apologize. Tomorrow. She would have to repeat this emotionally charged realization, and she wasn't up for it tonight. It was dark already anyway and she was tired out from the long day.
Rachel got up from the sofa first. Once she made the decision to face Hec tomorrow and talk everything through with him, she allowed herself to enjoy her evening.
"So, show me around?"
"Oh, of course. Come on," Luce replied. But Rachel was ahead of her, already running her fingers over the beaded curtains and her eyes over the shelves filled with small floral notecards, glass vases filled with pens, pencils, paintbrushes. A single dried rose was in each vase. There were bottles of all different shapes and sizes. Some were filled with what looked to be essential oils. And there were books. Two bookshelves that reached all the way up to the ceiling and they were crammed with books. The living room reminded Rachel so much of Luce's shop and it made her smile. She looked back at the sofa they had sat on before. It was so... Luce. The fabric was dark blue corduroy. There were two different patchwork pillows and a navy throw with with small white flowers. Even the walls fit her personality. One wall was light brick. Another had dark wood paneling. The third was covered with bookshelves so that Rachel couldn't make out what the actual wall was made of. And the fourth side was open to the hallway. Rachel closed her eyes, spread her arms and walked through beaded curtain, letting the strings flow over her like a cleansing rain.
"Next stop?" She laughed.
That laugh warmed Luce deep inside her soul. How she loved that sound. Luce took Rachel to the kitchen, where she let her look around while Luce herself began to prepare dinner. They hadn't eaten anything since the morning, and they only realized it now. Rachel tucked her fingers into her jeans pockets and looked up at the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. On the wall were shadow boxes with little dried herb and flower bouquets arranged inside. Her eyes drifted towards the solid wood counter where Luce had arranged vegetables to be peeled and sliced into the pan where onions were already sizzling. Rachel picked up a carrot, removed the peeler from Luce's hand and nudged her with her hip over to the cutting board. It felt so normal to be preparing food together. They worked seamlessly without exchanging even one word.
They were winding down on the sofa after dinner with a glass of wine. It was evening. There was no way Rachel was going back to her flat that night. And she really wanted to avoid staying over at her parents' house, too. All that time spent with them in the car was enough to last her a while. She rolled her eyes inwardly at her parents. And she really had to think about what she'd say to H before she saw her next.
"Luce, may I, uh, may I spend the night? I mean just for a place to stay. I can't very well go home tonight..."
"Of course you're staying, Love. I didn't realize you... I just figured that was what you planned on. Don't worry about anything. I'll take the sofa."
"Planned on?" Rachel couldn't hold back a laugh. "I didn't plan anything that happened in my life these past few months. It's probably better this way. It's turned out better and wilder and crazier than... and considering that the last thing I actually did plan was my wedding. Guess I'm just a lousy planner," Rachel concluded with a grin, which faded slowly once she noticed the way Luce was looking at her. That stifled smile, that raised eyebrow.
"And I talk too much," Rachel half whispered, placing her wine glass on a worn oak side table. Turning towards Luce, she smiled and removed her glass from her hand as well, placing it on the table near her own. Rachel raised her hand to Luce's cheek and drew her face closer. Their lips locked in a soft and gentle kiss. Rachel's hand slipped down from Luce's cheek, to her shoulder, pausing there, drawing Luce's upper body closer to her own. The hand continued down. Before it could find a place to settle, Luce enveloped Rachel's fingers inside her own and broke the kiss. They sat there, resting their heads on the back of the sofa, just looking at each other.
"You know, Rach," Luce ventured to break the silence first, "the highs and lows that I've experienced over the past few days are nothing compared to what you've had to go through." Rachel nodded slightly.
"And tomorrow will be hard on you as well. You have enough emotions coursing through your veins right now. I think what's best for both of us is to keep this evening emotionally bland."
Rachel felt the same way, and she knew Luce realized it. She smiled at Luce's choice of words.
They sat for a few more minutes in companionable silence.
Luce left the room and returned a minute later with something in her hand.
"I just realized you have nothing with you to change into," she said, throwing the bundle at Rachel, who caught it against her chest at the last moment.
"I'll show you to the bathroom. Go get ready for bed. You need your rest."
Luce extended her hand. Rachel took it and pulled herself up off the sofa.
When they got to the bathroom, Luce hoisted herself up on the bathroom counter. She stood on her knees and rummaged in a cabinet for a bit. A few seconds later, she hopped off, presenting a packaged toothbrush to Rachel as if it were a flower.
"I always have a few extras up in the cabinet." She pulled out a fresh towel, hung it on a hook, patted Rachel's shoulder and left.
Left alone with her thoughts for the first time since late last night when she left Hec on the sofa and went to bed, Rachel made the decision to just clear her mind and not think about anything. It was just too scary. She leaned on the edge of the sink with her palms and just looked at herself in the mirror for a long minute. Then she began to undress. Realizing that she'd need to wear these same clothes tomorrow, she folded them neatly on the edge of the counter and stepped into the shower.
Turning off her mind was easier than she thought it would be, and she lost herself in the warm pounding water and in pure oblivion. The only time her extinction was interrupted was when she massaged the shampoo into her hair. A feeling radiated subconsciously from deep inside and warmed her entire body. The smell transported her to those few seconds in the back of the flower shop when she buried her face in Luce's hair, giggling. Rachel allowed herself to smile briefly before turning to face the stream of water. She let it beat on her face in an attempt to stop her mind from progressing to the next moment, the one that followed the giggling. The moment that tore at her soul. The shampoo stung Rachel's eyes, and she made no attempt to wash it away. It was wonderfully distracting.
Rachel looked in the mirror before leaving the bathroom. The teal long sleeve shirt and grey lounge pants fit her just right. She ran her fingers over the waistband of the pants. Even Luce's pajamas had a low rise. We're just about the same size, Rachel though. Practically twins, she remembered with a smile as she walked out of the bathroom. She found Luce in the kitchen, washing dishes.
"Luce, may I use your brush? If I don't brush my hair while it's still wet all hope is lost. You would not want to see me then. The curse of the curls."
"Wouldn't I?" Luce asked, with half a smile, turning away from the sink to look at Rachel. She let her eyes sweep Rachel from head to toe. Seeing her in pajamas, hair wet, towel over her shoulders... something stirred inside Luce. This wasn't a dream, was it?
"Not when it dries looking like a bloody nest. Trust me," Rachel smirked.
Luce was still laughing at the thought when she returned, brush in hand.
They stayed in the kitchen together, Luce finishing up washing dishes and Rachel battling wet tangles. Rachel broke the silence first.
"Aren't you tired? The dishes won't go anywhere if you don't tend to them right away."
"That's exactly the problem. I like the kitchen to stay clean. I don't mind; I use this time to think."
"What are you thinking about now, then?" Rachel asked.
Luce turned around and let out a breath with a hint of a laugh. "You go on ahead to bed yourself, Love."
"I- I know you said you'd sleep on the sofa but I don't want you to, Luce. I'm not... I want us to take our time, you know? But one of us can't possibly sleep on the sofa until things settle down. Would be ridiculous. I... you..." Rachel looked up to see Luce leaning back against the counter, arms folded. Smiling that way again, her bottom lip sticking out slightly more than the top.
"Alright," she said, putting a finger over Rachel's lips. "Off with you now," Luce said as she guided Rachel in the direction of the bedroom. "Sweet dreams."
Rachel settled in under the blankets. She ran her hands down the shirt she was wearing. Feeling Luce's clothes against herself made her shiver. In the silence, her mind turned to Hec. Was he at their flat right now? Was he out with his friends? He'd be sleeping without her for the first time in years. Rachel rubbed her eyes and turned her thoughts to something emotionally bland, as Luce called it.
She surveyed her surroundings. There was a comforter, a quilt and a sheet layered one over the other. All the covers, sheets and pillows were in tones of beige and burgundy. What a surprise, Rachel smiled inwardly. Layers.She stretched, tucked her arms behind her head, and looked around the room that belonged to the person she loved. Rachel took in every tiny detail. The bedroom was more sparsely decorated than the rest of the house. There was just one dresser. Its surface was clear except two bottles of perfume and a jewelry box. One armoire and one chair. On the wall were just two framed paintings and a decorative design around the perimeter, right beneath the ceiling. Three windows covered in lace drapes took up one entire wall. The room was open and airy with lots of floor space.
Luce tiptoed into the room and closed the door without a sound as not to wake Rachel. But Rachel wasn't asleep. She watched Luce through her eyelashes. In the dim light of the bedside lamp, Rachel saw Luce as she never had before. Her auburn hair was still a bit damp. The few locks that have dried have already sprung up into a bit of a wave, giving Luce a tousled look. Her face was bare of makeup. She had never worn much of it, but this is the first time Rachel saw her without any makeup at all. And she wasn't in layers. Her sleep clothes were similar to the ones she lent Rachel. Long sleeve cotton shirt, comfortable lounge pants.
Luce slid into bed beside Rachel. Propping herself up on her elbow, she reached over to turn off the bedside lamp. Rachel's breath caught in her throat as Luce's arm passed over her. Feeling her so close, practically above her... Rachel could not breathe. This is ridiculous, she thought, biting her lips. I have kissed her, hugged her, touched her. And now her just being near me makes me feel worse than I did at H's school presentation.
"You alright, Rach?" Luce asked, noticing the look on her face.
Rachel swallowed and nodded.
"Okay then, just make sure you get enough oxygen. I swear you look worse than you did at H's school presentation." Luce winked and turned off the lamp.
Those words made Rachel let out her breath in a surprised laugh. She turned to Luce in the dark.
"You're perfect for me, Luce. You're just so perfect. Did I ever tell you that I love you?"
Their hands found each other and their fingers intertwined.
"No. Not in so many words. I love you too, Rachel."
"You dare?" Rachel replied with a hint of a smile in her voice.
They lay together quietly for a few minutes.
"It was my birthday," Rachel volunteered.
"Was it? Today?"
They laughed again at the absurdity of the conversation.
"Well, if we're going to follow the script, you can just skip to the part where you almost kiss me good night," Rachel winked.
"No more almosts," Luce replied and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Good night, my love."
Author's Note: Chapter 2 is in the works and will be posted if there is interest. (The next day, when Rachel confronts Hec.)