"Dumbed down and numbed by time and age
Your dreams that catch the world the cage
The highway sets the traveler's stage
All exits look the same.

Three words that became hard to say
'I' and 'Love' and 'You'
'I' and 'Love' and 'You'
'I' and 'Love' and 'You'..."
~The Avett Brothers, "I and Love and You"

Now

"I think I'm going to go."

Jack quickly made his way out of the penthouse in order to give Karen and Grace their privacy. He knew that he could have gone upstairs, found a room to relax in while they talk it out downstairs. But the optimist in him wanted to believe that once they were finished talking, they would spend the night together. At this point, he couldn't tell the outcome, but better to be safe than sorry. He wanted to turn and give a silent bid of luck to Karen, but he couldn't see her with the red head still standing there. He waited until the door shut behind the women to make his way out of the building and to Riverside Drive.

"He was only here to see how I was doing. Well…maybe it was more out of confusion and wanting answers that he came over." Karen couldn't figure out why she was making excuses for Jack's presence. They were friends, this was her house. Why should it matter what he was doing here? Maybe it was to fill the empty space. Maybe it was an attempt to start a conversation, any conversation, because deep down she knew that if not prompted, they could go on forever without speaking. And if she had to be honest, Karen wanted desperately to simply hear the sound of Grace's voice; she didn't care what the words were.

"At least you changed out of that outfit. I couldn't stand to see you looking like that after the way I've seen you these past few months."

"You were reverting to old habits. I figured I might as well do the same."

Grace's mouth opened to a small "O" of surprise. Her instinct was to fight back, to defend herself. But there was nothing to defend but stupidly rash decisions. And she didn't want to stick up for them. "I deserve it," she said finally. "I made a mistake. I thought it was the right move when it obviously wasn't. I realized it a bit too late. For what it's worth, I'm so sorry. I don't really know how to make up for a mistake like this, and if I did know, I'd be doing it now. I just wanted to tell you that I left Leo tonight. I'm staying at Will's again. I thought it would be better to tell you in person instead of on the phone." The red head tried to gauge the dark haired woman's thoughts, but Karen had on her poker face. After a moment, Grace murmured, "That's it," and started to walk towards the door.

"Wait." Grace felt Karen's touch on her arm and froze in her tracks, not because there was any aggression in the dark haired woman's action, but because of the sheer shock of feeling Karen's gentle and soft hand on her skin once again, when she thought she would never feel it in this way ever again. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes already, and knew she couldn't turn to face Karen without looking an uncontrollable wreck. She let her hand slide from the doorknob and fall to her side, waiting for the dark haired woman's voice to come through again. "How did he take it?" Karen finally asked.

"I don't know," Grace said softly. "He was asleep when I left. I wrote him a note, put it in a place where I knew he'd see it in the morning. I just couldn't say it to his face. I knew I had wasted our time; I didn't need him saying it to my face. I didn't want to look at him as I told him I didn't love him anymore. Because I know that I don't. I kept looking at him tonight—all day, in fact—wishing with everything in my being that he were you. Not that it would do any good now. I know I blew it. But you should know that I finally came to my senses."

"Will you at least come sit down with me?" Grace turned to face Karen, and realized how out of place they seemed here. It made her miss home, not in the state it was now, but as it was a week ago, two weeks ago, that day Karen first moved in. The red head watched as Karen made her way to the sofa before following her lead. Countless times they have made this walk—not here, but on Riverside, at the Chelsea coffeehouse, in the Brooklyn dive bars. The air felt different those times. Now she couldn't gauge it.

"I didn't mean for you to have to sit through all of that," the red head murmured after a moment of silence. "How did you know that I was calling that dinner? After everything, I didn't think it would have been right for me to invite you; that's the only reason why I didn't."

"I know, honey. I know. Will told me about it. He called me today, I guess to check up on me. I don't know what made me tell him that I would be there. Maybe I just wanted to see it for myself. I wanted to see if you were happy with your decision."

"Well, I wasn't." Grace looked at her hands, felt the desire in them to slide over to Karen's fingers and get caught in a tangle of skin. She realized then that if this was truly the end for them, she wouldn't be able to handle it. She knew every curve of the dark haired woman's body, she knew her secrets, she knew what made her genuinely smile and what she wanted most out of life. She knew Karen Walker inside and out. And to be denied what she truly knew was something she could not accept. "I wanted you to say something. I know that's so selfish, but it's true. I wanted you to tell me how stupid it was that I was playing house with someone I didn't even want anymore. And I knew deep down I didn't want him. It was more out of respect for the marriage, not the person I was married to. I can't believe I made that mistake." She shifted her gaze at Karen, knowing that she wouldn't be able to meet those hazel eyes. The dark haired woman's stare was straight ahead at nothing in particular. Grace wished with all of her being that she could break through it. "I hate that I know what it's like to be without you. I hate that I let you down."

"You could never let me down." It was quiet, almost inaudible, but Grace knew it was there. Still staring blankly across the room, Karen continued. "When I thought that you would stay with him, I didn't want to miss you. And I know it's only been a short time. But the fact that I couldn't even go a day without wanting to hold you in my arms…I don't know if it makes me weak, or it makes you irresistible. Maybe it's a little of both." Finally, she turned her gaze to the red head, silent tears in her eyes. "I love you more than I've loved anyone. I only want you to be happy. And if it's not with me…"

Grace couldn't take it anymore. In one fell swoop, she cut Karen off mid-sentence—"You make me happy. You make me so happy"—and pressed her lips against the dark haired woman's. She pulled away abruptly, realizing what she had done. "I…I'm sorry."

"No." It gave the red head chills, that word. Grace closed her eyes, waited for Karen to speak. "No apologies. Not now. Not again." Grace opened her eyes to see Karen smiling through the tears that had spilled over. "Stay with me tonight. Just stay with me."

The red head nodded as she was pulled into Karen's arms. And then, she felt it in her throat, working its way to her lips one word at a time. She loved the way it tasted. And she knew that once it came out, it would overflow from then on. She took a breath. "I," she whispered, "love…you."

Everything led to Karen. Everything would always lead to Karen. And Grace wouldn't have it any other way.


In the morning, we will leave all of this behind us.

You will come back home with me, where you are wanted, where you are needed. Where it's warm. Where we can lay out on the terrace with a bottle of wine and Billie Holiday playing on the stereo, and watch as the sun sets over Manhattan. Where we no longer have the obstacles that once plagued us. Where the Chelsea coffeehouse is only a short subway ride away. Where we can finally be what we've always wanted to be.

I knocked on your door tonight terrified that you would shut it in my face once you found out who was on the other side. I was terrified that I had lost you for good. I'm too old to keep playing like I had been; I'm not a teenager anymore. I can't flit from person to person without repercussions, and I can't fool around with the emotions of others. But do you know the one thing that gave me an ounce of hope that you and I still had a chance? You tried your damnedest not to make me feel like I was a horrible person when you left me on the sands of Coney Island. You knew I was confused. You knew I wasn't out to hurt you. I could feel your love even when you told me to go to Leo, to figure things out. It made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could come back to you when I realize that I never should have left in the first place. And now that we're here, there is no going back. Because it's you. It is always you.

You are home. You are safety. You are everything.

Right now, you have your arms around me in your Park Avenue bed, your skin gently against mine. It is fitting that we ended up where I first felt your warmth, where I first had that feeling that we were meant for something greater than we had back then. If I could go back in time, I would have been firmer in my refusals of Leo. I never would have put you through that wedding; I never would have put me through that wedding. We wouldn't have lost so much time with each other. Because now that I look back on it, something was always missing with Leo. I kept telling myself that this was what I wanted, because I had to lose your love in order to get it; the sacrifice was so big, that I was determined to make it worth it. There was just one thing, one major thing that would never go away, that would always be the rift in my marriage, no matter how much I tried not to acknowledge it. He was not you, and he never would be you.

All is right now. All is well. You made me promise not to utter any more apologies. But I will do everything in my power to make up for lost time, everything in my power to take away any pain, because you don't deserve to feel it, any of it. I will do everything in my power to make sure you know how much I love you.

I love you, Karen. God, it feels so good to say. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.

They are three simple words. They used to be impossible. They used to stick in my throat, because I would try to say them to someone who didn't deserve them. But now that I'm in your arms for good, moving closer to your body, they're the only words I know.