Epilogue: Aquitaine, France
The morning sun glinted brightly across the water, but it hadn't yet warmed the still crisp air, and Maura wrapped her thin robe tighter around her as she padded barefoot towards the pool. Sitting along the edge, she dipped her feet cautiously into the water, watching as Jane swam freely, her lithe form crossing quickly from one side of the pool to the other. It was a form of exercise she had come to practice through rehab, and made a point to continue it even after she had regained full use of her shoulder. Throughout their short stint at her parents' home in Aquitaine, Maura had felt the same light, feathery kiss on her temple each morning before Jane climbed out of bed, eager to get in a few laps. Although she hadn't said as much, Maura could tell that it had become more than exercise: it had become freeing, like a morning meditation.
Jane's arms slicedcleanly through the water, her gentle splashes mimicking the sound of the waves lapping against the nearby shore, which stretched beyond the house. Maura sat, quietly sipping her tea, her own morning meditation made easier by the quietness around them. It wouldn't last; soon, both of their families would bustle around them, showers running, bathroom doors slamming, espresso machine grinding. But for now, it was simply the two of them, as it had been for the past three months. She smiled as Jane ended her lap and floated over to her, ducking her head under the water and blowing a few bubbles before rising with a carefree smile.
"Good morning," she greeted, rising a few feet out of the shallow water as her feet found the bottom of the pool. Maura's eyes followed the slow trail of droplets down her firm torso, made even tauter by the weeks of swimming.
"Good morning," Maura echoed pleasantly, her eyes finally trailing back where they belonged. Jane's gaze fell to the magazine that Maura brought with her. "And what are we reading this morning, Dr. Isles? You continuing your anthropological research into the psyche of American Hollywood? Are stars really like us?"
"That copy of US was your mother's," Maura reminded her, a streak of playful defensiveness in her tone. "I was simply perusing it to pass the time."
Jane gave a placating nod, grinning up at her as she fingered the edge of the magazine. "Uh huh. Oooh, W Magazine. Aren't you fancy."
Maura pushed aside Jane's wet fingers, which were muddling the cover. "It's the Architectural Digest of fashion."
Jane shrugged, pressing a kiss against one of Maura's knees and sliding in between them. "Whatever you say, mon cherry."
"Mon cherie," Maura corrected, although she had given up on ever perfecting Jane's French pronunciation. She set her tea mug down, moving her hands to Jane's arms and pulling her closer, her eyes glinting with both sun and excitement. "I want to take you somewhere today."
"Let me guess, it's a place of plentiful wine and cheese?"
"Now, you know that's a given," Maura answered with a smile, unable to hold back her enthusiasm, which had been bubbling inside her for most of their trip. "I want to take you Dordogne."
The name meant nothing to Jane, but that didn't stop a curious smile from curling her lips. She hadn't seen Maura as excited about any of their other day trips, which probably meant Dordogne was either home to French couture or French ruins. "I guess you could tear me away from this beautiful beach for another day."
Maura clapped her hands together, grinning. "Oh, there will be plentiful water. Dordogne sits right along the Vézère River, and most of its buildings date from the twelfth century, but it's caves are home to etchings from the Paleoliticum." When Jane didn't meet her smile, she continued, clarifying: "The Stone Age. It's absolutely breathtaking. I go every time I'm in Aquitaine. My dad introduced me to it; he used to take me with him to some of the river caves to uncover pigmented prints. Oh, I loved it."
"You were never a child, were you?" Jane asked. "You've always been a cyborg."
Maura pushed her playfully away with her foot. "They are over forty thousand years old, Jane; even you would think they were cool."
"I think there's an insult in there somewhere, but never mind," Jane said with a grin, sliding back in between her legs. "Why don't we invite your dad to come along? He's only been here for two days, I've barely had a chance to even try and fail to impress him."
Maura twitched her lip, running a hand absently along Jane's shoulder. Her father had flown in a few days into the trip, and so far had managed to keep a polite, but measured distance. "I don't want to bother him," she said, waving off the suggestion. "He's busy writing that journal article. It's enough for him just to be here."
The words may have sounded convincing, but Jane knew from Maura's disappointed gaze that she was simply toeing the same line she always had with her parents. Although Constance had been more than welcoming, including Angela in most everything she did, Phillip was another story, complex and untold. It wasn't long ago that she had seen the same reticence from a certain new medical examiner; the similarities between Maura and her father were uncanny, morphing Jane into a devoted advocate of nurture over nature. "Whatever you say, but it could be good for the two of you. I mean, really, am I going to be able to keep up with old ruins like your dad can?"
"I'd rather just spend the day with you," Maura professed. If she had known that her father would actually join them, she would have given him earlier notice. But she had planned the trip to Dordogne as soon as they arrived in France, eager to share something with Jane that had colored her younger years with a love for history and science."How many laps did you do?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Twenty-five," Jane replied effortlessly.
"Your stamina is really something to be admired."
Jane shrugged, tossing her head towards the coast that loomed behind her. "It's less about stamina and more about the view, I'd say." She grinned as she turned back to Maura. "I could do a hundred laps a day if I woke up to this every morning."
"You definitely deserve a croissant," Maura said.
"I deserve a kiss," Jane corrected, placing her hands on the concrete at either side of Maura's legs.
"Don't get me wet, Jane," Maura warned, holding up a finger at her. She was met with a pair of raised eyebrows and a set of devilish brown eyes, each of them calling each other's bluff for a silent moment. Jane moved first, launching herself out of the water like an eager dolphin, straddling Maura's hips and sending them both backwards. Maura's protest was silenced by Jane's lips as she pressed against her, water seeping coolly through her thin robe. Jane kissed her through her smile, relishing not only Maura's lips, but the fleeting moment of alone time she managed to snatch amid the constant presence of family.
She heard a throat clear from the patio, and her face reddened as she glanced up and caught Phillip walking casually along the portico carrying a magazine and a cup of coffee. She rolled off of Maura, scrambling quickly to her feet, and reached for the towel that she had draped a nearby lounge chair. Casually tossing it over her shoulder, she reached down to help Maura up off the ground. Her thin robe, now damp and wet, clung to her chest, leaving little to the imagination, and Jane ripped the towel from her shoulder and draped it over Maura instead, eliciting a small eye roll from her.
"Good morning, Dad," Maura called cheerfully, heading towards him.
"I see you two greet the day quite early."
Jane's face reddened a bit more, but rather than duck inside, she sat down next to him. "Architectural Digest," she said, peekingat the magazine he held. "Funny, that's what Maura's reading." She grinned over at her, watching as Maura dropped her Winto the nearest chair, out of sight.
"Very funny," she said lightly, rounding the table and perching on Jane's lap. She had made an effort at such displays of affection throughout their vacation, and although Jane didn't say as much, she welcomed them.
Phillip took a sip of his coffee, his gaze focused on the expanse of ocean stretching from the house. "What are the young people up to today?" Her turned his head slightly back to the house, a disdainful grimace curling his upper lip. "The over fifty crowd seems to think it pleasurable to spend the day 'antiquing'."
Jane shuddered; shopping was burdensome enough, but shopping through old, musty antique stores sounded downright miserable. She continued, hoping she had finally found something in common with Maura's father. "You don't care for that, I guess?"
"Not so much, no," he said, a certain awkward levity in his voice, as if he were trying out a new joke. "I keep telling Constance that if she wants old artifacts, I can definitely show them to her. She prefers her antiques somewhat shiny and a bit higher priced than what I can offer."
"Speaking of old, Maura's taking me to Dorknob today," Jane said, squeezing her girlfriend's hip.
Maura felt her stomach lurch as her father's eyes looked up at her, surprised, and the sudden guilt made her forget to correct Jane's pronunciation.
"You're going to Dordogne?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes," Maura said with a contrite nod, sheepish that she hadn't extended an invitation to her father. But by now, she had already planned the day with Jane, reserving a canoe and a table for two at a local restaurant, eager to have some intimacy with her. "You know how much I love it there. I wanted Jane to see it."
"You should come with us," Jane offered, clearly eager to bring Phillip closer into the family fold.
Maura glanced back at her, then at her father. His eyes flashed with a quick enthusiasm, the same excitement she used to see there when they planned their visits there. "My, we haven't been there in years, have we? Do you remember our last trip?" He eyed his daughter casually, a shared secret between the two of them.
"What happened?" Jane asked, nudging Maura's hip.
Maura laughed suddenly, almost as if by accident, as she recalled the memory. "We got caught in that rainstorm underneath that cove," she said. "I was sure the river level would rise too much for us to get out."
Jane's face morphed from a smile into a horrified frown, but Phillip and Maura laughed mirthfully. "That sounds... exciting," she said uncertainly. She wasn't sure the goal of relaxing in France was to find more life or death experiences, but if it brought Maura even a bit closer to her father, she was on board. "Let's do it." She glanced up at the clear sky, just a few clouds streaking across it. "It doesn't seem like there's any rain coming in."
"That's the problem," Phillip replied, raising a finger. "With these wind currents, a storm could drift in at a moment's notice, leaving you high and... well, not exactly dry on the river." He set his newspaper down, peeling off the reading glasses he wore. "It sounds like fun."
"What sounds like fun?" Frankie's muffled voice sounded from the patio door as he stepped out into the sunshine bare-chested, a pastry in one hand and a wine glass in the other.
Jane looked up at him, shaking her head. She had worried her brothers would have little to do in Aquitaine, but so far they had managed to occupy their days with a genial languor, never leaving the pool or the beach for too long. She frowned at the sight of Frankie's glass, and the lines around her mouth only deepened as Tommy stepped out behind him, an exact mirror image, both of their eyes covered by a pair of dark sunglasses. "Are you two drinking champagne?" she asked disbelievingly.
Tommy shook his head, holding up the fluted glass. "Beer. Constance won't let me drink it out of anything but this."
"Beer for breakfast?" Jane shook her head. "Show some class."
"Bon matin," Constance called as she slid outside, carrying an identical glass along with a tray of sliced fruit. Jane raised both eyebrows at her. "I see this is a thing," she said, pointing up to her.
Constance smiled briefly down at her as Frankie reached over, taking the fruit tray from her hands, at least mimicking a gentleman, even if he wasn't exactly a shining example of one. "Oh, it's the last full day of this family soiree, why not make the most of it?" she said breezily.
Jane leaned into Maura's ear, covering her whisper with a smile. "I'd say she's celebrating that it's the last full day."
Maura chuckled, leaning back into her.
"Bonjour!" Angela bellowed, also carrying a glass and another full tray of croissants that she unfortunately set down in front of Tommy, who leaped on them, snatching two. "What a beautiful day," she sighed, taking a seat and leaning back in her chair. Jane chanced a look at Frankie and Tommy, neither her or her brothers remembering the last time they'd seen their mother so sincerely happy. In Boston, sitting still wasn't something that came easily to her; she was always on the move, exerting a nervous energy over her children, her knitting, or her blog, but in France she would sit for hours, reading a bad romance novel and staring at the ocean from underneath a wide, straw hat.
"Something tells me Ma may decide to stay here," Frankie said with a grin as he buttered a croissant.
"I wish," Angela echoed, the smile still plastered across her face.
"You know you're always welcome, Angela," Constance offered, taking a small sip of what Jane assumed was wine, not beer.
"What are you two doing today?" Tommy asked, turning to Maura, his mouth full. "Jane, you up for water volleyball after breakfast? And no cheating this time by putting Maura on your shoulders."
"Actually, we're going to Dordogne," Phillip offered, piping up before Jane could respond, his enthusiasm blooming the longer he stewed upon the idea. Maura glanced at him, surprised by his sudden interest. Constance seemed no less surprised, but she smiled, reaching over and placing a hand along Phillip's knee.
"Ah, your old medieval castle playgrounds? It's been years since you've been there."
"Castles?" Tommy echoed, suddenly curious. "Like Game of Thrones?"
Jane rolled her eyes. "Probably not, Tommy."
"Sergeac ishome to a medieval village," Phillip explained. He waved his hand up at the younger men. "If that interests you, you should come along."
Maura's lower lip dropped, taken aback by her father's invitation; as far as she knew, he hadn't spent more than five minutes alone with Tommy and Frankie. "What?" she asked bluntly. Her solo excursion with Jane was suddenly spiraling beyond her control.
Jane misread her outburst, giving her an encouraging smile. "That's really nice of you, Phillip," she said. "You and Maura can switch off on tour guide duties."
Constance grinned at her husband. "Phillip is like a boy when it comes to Dordogne and all of its primitive offerings."
"Not primitive, historical," he corrected, glancing up at Maura. "What do you say: make it a group trip?"
Tommy glanced over at Frankie, shrugging. "I can do castles."
Frankie nodded. "Yeah, me too."
Constance looked over at Angela. "Sergeac has a few antique stores. We can do some shopping there and meet you all for lunch at Les Pilotes."
Maura's mouth opened in surprise for the second time that morning, unsure of whether the wine or the good weather was going to her parents' heads. Maura was more than familiar with Les Pilotes, as that was the very place she had reserved a table for two. Once again, her plan for alone time had been spoiled. "Are we sure?" she asked, unthinking, suddenly overwhelmed by the idea of family that she had so craved.
Jane stared up at her. "Of course, Maur," she said. "This is a perfect way to end a family vacation, right?" She tried to discern the mask of disappointment crossing the hazel eyes that stared down at her.
Maura nodded slowly. "Of course," she said, brushing off her concerns. It had been her idea to include both of their families, as a way to get to know one another, but also to cement the fleeting insecurities she had surrounding her own parents, both adopted and biological. She should be content that her hopes were finally coming true.
"Well, if everyone's going..." Angela began, glancing at Constance.
"It's settled then," Phillip said, reaching for the fruit tray. "We'll make a day of it."
"Are you sure you can spare a full day?" Maura asked. "What about your article?"
Phillip looked curiously up at her. "Dordogne is more than worth it. You know that."
"Great," Maura said, glancing down at her still damp robe, needing an excuse to disappear for a moment. "You know what, I'm going to put on some Dordogne-worthy attire." Pulling away from Jane's hand, she headed for the door, walking up the stairs toward the bedroom that she and Jane had shared for the past week. It was a more than luxurious offering with its own bathroom and a terrace that offered a view of the Atlantic.
She draped her damp robe over a lounge on the terrace, Tommy and Frankie's voices intertwining with Angela's down below. It had been due in large part to her convincing that Jane had even extended an invitation to her brothers to travel with them, and now she was wishing they would simply just give them space. She was more than used to being alone, and had never known anything different; the notion of family, as much as she wanted it, would have its own learning curve. As frustration built behind her eyes, she wiped a quick hand across them.
"Maur?" Jane's voice came from inside the bedroom, and she walked curiously over to her, a towel wrapped precariously around her waist. "Everything alright? I ate your croissant."
"Yeah," Maura said quickly, dipping her head in embarrassment. "With all the swimming you've done this week, you deserve two."
Jane stepped closer, peering down at her with concerned eyes. "Hey," she said, reaching for Maura's arm. "You want to talk about it?" Over the past three months, she'd come to know Maura better than she ever thought she would, learning not only the contours of her body, but the complex folds of her mind. Whatever had just transpired downstairs, it was clear something about it had upset her.
Maura turned to her, suddenly unable to hold in the well of inexplicable emotion frothing forth: "I wanted this trip to Dordogne to be just the two of us," she wailed, her tears inexplicably, and almost comically, trailing down her cheeks. She moved towards the bathroom, yanking a few tissues from a holder on the sink.
Jane seemed caught off guard, but moved on instinct, approaching her as if trying calming an injured animal, her brain still attempting to catch up with the outburst. "What?"
"I had a canoe ride and a lunch planned for just us," Maura continued, sniffling slightly, attempting to get control of herself. "I don't know why I care so much all of a sudden. It's great that my dad wants to come with us, right? I had no idea he would want to come, and I didn't invite him. Why didn't I invite him? And why is my amygdala overtaking my left hemisphere?"
"Oh no, Maura," Jane said, her voice apologetic as she recalled the way she had haphazardly extended the invitation to Dordogne to everyone around them. "I had no idea you were trying to make this that special."
"Why am I crying?" Maura asked, raising her hands questionably. "This isn't something to cry about. It's just... there are people around... all the time." She shook her head. "I love it, don't get me wrong, but – I just wanted some time for us."
Jane rubbed her shoulders up and down Maura's arms. "Hey, that's okay. So we're surrounded by family; that's what we wanted, right? Get the two clans together and see what would happen? And who knew, it's been a week and I haven't killed Tommy." She grinned, until Maura met her eyes and let a small smile curl her lips.
"Dordogne is just special to me. I wanted to share it with you."
"Hey, and this will still be special, okay? But not only are you making this special for us, you've made it special for my mom, my brothers, and hopefully for your parents, too, okay? This is meaningful, Maur."
"You're right," she said, sighing and putting a hand to her lips as she sank ontothe bathroom counter. "I don't know what's wrong with me, this irrational display of conflicting emotional manifestations."
"Are you kidding, if you're not crying or yelling, then it doesn't count as quality family time. Welcome to the club."
"I guess," Maura said, letting out a combination of a laugh and a sigh.
"So let's just make this into another relaxing, amazing day, okay?"
A bang against their door startled both of them, and Tommy's voice sounded through the wood. "You fair maidens getting ready? This ship sails for the castles in twenty!"
"See?" Jane emphasized, barely masking a grimace as she let her sarcasm take over. "Relaxing. Amazing."
Maura smiled, then deftly pulled the towel from Jane's hips, tossing it to the side. "He said twenty minutes," she whispered, wrapping her arms around Jane's neck. "That gives us an extra ten minutes to shower..."
"Shh, say no more," Jane said, flicking on the water, wasting little time in peeling Maura out of the silk pajama shorts she wore. She struggled out of her wet bathing suit, pushing the smaller woman indelicately under the spray of the showerhead. Ten minutes wasn't a lot of time, but she had become an expert at making each one count.
"Now, the tourists' way of seeing Sergeac is to go on foot," Phillip called over his shoulder, his oar disappearing under the clear water of the Vézère. "But the real way to see it, the way explorers thousands of years ago first saw the land, is by boat." He gestured towards the canoe he commanded. "Or in our case, canoe."
"The Vézère has invited exploration since the days of the Neanderthals," Maura called out, her voice carrying towards Tommy and Frankie, who were each settled in their own canoe.
Jane tossed her head towards her brothers, who were floating just ahead of them. "The Neanderthals are still here, apparently." Her comment earned her a quick look from Maura, who sat in front of their canoe, eagerly paddling them forward along the wide, curving river, the green leaves of full trees arching over them.
"Now, as we round this bend, you'll get your first glimpse of what early explorers saw," Phillip called, leading their small caravan. "On your right you'll see fortified Church of Sergeac towering in the cliffs. The Lascaux hill, just beyond it, is termed the Sistine Chapel of France, due to its cave paintings."
"Holy shit," Tommy gushed as they rounded the small bend, a tower of rock looming over them out of the trees, leaning almost menacingly over the water.
"Holy shit," Frankie confirmed, his head angled upwards, for a moment forgetting his chore of paddling, sending their canoe angling towards the bank.
"Holy shit," Tommy repeated, pointing toward a row of structures tucked along the side of the stone. "Are those houses? They're like house-caves."
"Holy shit, Tommy, look at that," Frankie called, pointing towards a large, looming structure in the distance.
Jane called up at them, a frown on her face. "Hey, you Neanderthals, how about you try expanding your vocabulary for a change?" Maura's face was upturned, concentrating solely on the architecture rising above them, her lips parted in awe, as if seeing it for the first time.
"These overhangs," Phillip called, leading them underneath a large, looming piece of smooth stone, "used to shelter cave dwellers. The Vézère carved this pathway into the limestone over thousands of years."
"Holy shit," Jane murmured, momentarily forgetting her chastising words to her brothers as they coasted underneath the overhang, the sun casting shadows along the walls around them, giving the gently lapping water an ethereal glow.
Maura looked back at her. "It's beautiful, no?"
"Are you kidding? I've never felt so tiny," Jane said. "This is mind blowing."
Maura turned back to the front, leaning forward. "Dad, Jane and I are going to veer off for a second towards Vallon Cave. We'll meet you at the fork."
"That's fine," he called. "Tommy, Frankie, follow me. There's a small inlet where they used to house a medieval jail. That will appeal to you, no?"
"Not a very big jail if it's in the side of a mountain, huh?" Tommy asked.
"They didn't need one," Phillip replied. "Most of its patrons were put to death via guillotine."
Jane laughed as Tommy's face scrunched at the explanation. "Have fun!" she called cheerily, waving as she and Maura veered left, circling away from them down a small, calmer channel. "So, Maur, you know where you're going?" she asked needlessly.
Maura didn't bother glancing back at her. "Of course I do. I know this river by heart."
"You ever camp along here?" Jane asked, her eyes rolling over the wide embankments, perfect for pitching a tent.
"Oh no," Maura replied with a shake of her head. "I don't camp."
"How do you not camp?" Jane asked. "There's bugs, leaves, frogs, all the stuff you said you were into as a kid."
"I prefer dissectingfrogs, thank you," Maura corrected with a laugh. "Not sleeping outdoors with them."
"You are a woman of contradictions, woman," Jane said with a laugh, plunging her oar once again into the clear water, wanting nothing more than to plunge into it. The sun shone pleasantly down on them, creating just enough warmth for her to crave a cool, crisp dip.
"Paddle aft!" Maura called back to her, prompting Jane to roll her eyes.
"Maura, we are in a rented canoe. This isn't 20 Leagues Under the Sea, I don't know what 'paddle aft' means."
"Paddle on both sides back there," Maura clarified, unbothered by her sarcasm. She was, it seemed, unbothered by anything in Dordogne. Since they had arrived, a peaceful smile had rested on her face, her shoulders relaxed, even as she eagerly paddled them forward. "We're going to pull up to that bank, about half a league ahead."
Jane shook her head, chuckling. "You are such a dork."
Maura looked back, her eyes squinting into the sun. "You like it."
Jane nodded, unable to offer a counter-argument. "Yes, I do. I also like how your dork-shaped body looks in that swimsuit you're covering up. Can we dive in soon?"
Maura didn't reply, instead focusing on the bank looming before them, a stone overhang almost completely encasing it. "Here," she said, directing Jane, whose arms were more than adequate to propel them forward, especially after months months of swimming. With a few last paddles, she slid them effortlessly along the damp embankment.
Jane wasted no time in hopping out of the back of the canoe, pulling it further up and helping Maura out of it, the water cool against her ankles. She slipped off her shoes, wading further out, until the water crept up just underneath the hem of her shorts. "It's so quiet here," she commented, her voice echoing off the walls around her. "Come in with me," she coaxed, motioning for Maura to join her.
Maura waded towards her, letting her fingers dip underneath the water. "Do you like it?" she asked earnestly, as if unsure whether the rugged beauty around them had managed to penetrate her partner.
"Why do you keep asking me that?" Jane asked, splashing her. "Of course I do."
Maura shrugged, glancing almost shyly at her. "I don't know, I keep thinking one day you'll wake up and realize you want to be with a woman who knows the difference between a curve ball and a slider. Not a woman who gets goose bumps thinking about prehistoric cave drawings."
"What would I do with a woman who's an expert in baseball?" Jane asked. "Then what role would I fill in the relationship?" She laughed, hoping to pull a smile from Maura, curious as to where the sudden insecurity had come from. Nn her mind, she was the lucky one, still floored at how she had managed to hang on to a beautiful woman who could not only change a tire, but also tell you the history of the rubber used to manufacture it.
"You aren't bored with me?" Maura asked.
Jane balked, her mouth dropping open in surprise. "This week of family togetherness must have made you lose your mind." Tossing her hands up in the air, she went further. "Maura, I'm excited just waking up next to you every morning. I like jogging with you, I like watching baseball while you curl up next to me and read those god-awful medical journals with the disgusting pictures. We could be watching moss grow on a log and I'd feel like I'm walking on air, just because I'm with you."
"I did make you look at moss on that birch tree yesterday," Maura mumbled, shaking her head.
"And it was riveting," Jane emphasized, grinning, wading over to her and putting her arms around her waist. "You liked that behind the scenes tour of Fenway Park, right? And you never would have done that if I hadn't dragged you with me."
Maura nodded, her insecurities somewhat abated, and she reached out for Jane's hand. "I want to show you one more thing," she said, turning and pulling her out of the water towards the rounded stone wall of the overhang. They stopped at a smattering of red along the wall, splotches that looked like burnt, red paint. In the center of them was a hand print, the fingers spread as if someone had high-fived the wall in a fit of excitement.
"Ancient artists blew pigment over their hands as a sort of signature," Maura explained, peering up at it. "This print has been here for thousands of years."
"What?" Jane asked, incredulous as she leaned closer to inspect it. "It looks like it was just done yesterday."
"Isn't it beautiful?" Maura stared, awe struck. "To think that forty-five thousand years ago, we were governed by the same base emotion to prove our existence. Just to preserve the fact that we were here." She glanced up at Jane, suddenly self-conscious as she let out a small smile. "I guess I've always liked connecting with the dead. Even the dead from thousands of years ago."
Jane stood behind Maura, taking her hand and holding it up to the cave wall atop the red pigmented outline. "Your hand is about the size of a Neanderthal," she observed, but then cocked her head as her own hand covered both Maura's hand and the print. "And mine is apparently of the Gianticus Sparticus era."
Maura laughed, leaning back against Jane and pulling her arms around her. They were quiet a moment more, until a small rumble sounded above the barely audible lap of the water behind them. Maura cocked her head, looking up at Jane. "Was that your stomach?"
Jane nodded. "It was either my stomach or a small, dwarf-shaped bear."
Maura chuckled, her head sinking back against Jane's chest. "We should get back," she said noncommittally. "Our mothers are going to be at Les Pilotes soon. And it sounds like you're ready for lunch."
"Thank you for sharing this with me," Jane whispered against her hair, her eyes still on the hand print as she showed her appreciation with another small kiss against Maura's temple. "Now, how about that romantic lunch for seven?"
Maura let Jane lead her reluctantly back to the canoe, the two of them rowing silently back towards the rest of their group, where Tommy, Frankie, and Phillip were already waiting along the grassy bank, absorbed in a grating discussion about medieval torture methods. As they returned their canoes along one of the many outfitters posted along the river, Phillip leaned over towards Maura, a playful glint in his gray eyes. "Hand still there?"
Maura looked up at him with a knowing smile, the question a shared joke between the two of them. "Still there," she confirmed.
Phillip nodded, as if relieved. "They just don't make ancient pigment like that anymore."
Jane caught the playfulness between the two of them, smiling to herself as she followed her brothers along the meandering path towards the car. As usual, things probably hadn't worked out exactly as Maura had planned, but it seemed that was for the best. They rode towards Sergeac with the windows down, the river breeze floating over them. The trip was far from quiet, between Tommy and Frankie comparing the castles to everything from Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings, but there was a certain ease in the way Phillip engaged with them, darting in pieces of factual information like arrows towards the back seat.
Angela and Constance were already waiting for them at a large table along an outdoor patio, but the way the leaned back against their chairs, sipping slowly from tall glasses, Jane imagined they could have waited another couple of hours and not even notice the time passing. They settled in, filling wine glasses and passing around displays of thinly sliced meats and cheeses, rested on fine wooden boards, Jane felt herself getting full. She had yet to perfect the French way of grazing at meals.
Phillip cleared his throat, raising his glass. "If you all don't mind my formality, I'd like to say a few words." Maura glanced over at him, surprised. Her father, as far as she knew, was always a man of few words, but rarely did he venture to deliver speeches unless he were in front of a podium and fellow academics.
"I don't make it a point to get involved in Maura's personal affairs," he said stoically. Realizing his words weren't coming out as expected, he shifted almost nervously in his chair, tossing a quick look at his wife, who smiled encouragingly at him. "What I mean is that I may have missed out on trips like these in the past. But it's been a pleasure to spend time with the Rizzoli... tribe, if you will. The warmth that you all exude for one another and for Maura is quite exceptional, reminiscent of the Angliano tribe of Northern Morocco."
Jane glanced around the table, noticing that only Maura seemed to understand his reference, but judging by her girlfriend's smile, it was at least a compliment, and she smiled over at Phillip.
"Uh, I digress," he continued. "But, I would just like to say hekahekato all of you." He raised his glass and took a quick sip, an awkward smile on his lips, but sincerity in his eyes.
Once again, Maura led the way in guiding the rest of them towards his true meaning. "Cheers," she said with a smile, meeting his glass. Jane joined in, a series of clinks progressing around the table as their glasses met.
"If I may," Angela said, raising a tentative hand in the air.
"Oh boy," Jane sighed, tossing a quick glance at Frankie and Tommy, surprised by her mother's forwardness.
"No family is perfect," Angela began slowly, as if forming her words as she spoke. "And, of course, sometimes things end in ways that you never really imagined." She quieted for a moment, and Jane felt her own father's failures rising as a lump in her throat. "Jane and my boys are the light of my life. And I gotta say, Maura, you make all of them shine even brighter, especially Jane." She complemented her words with a small smile, turning her attention to Phillip and Constance. "You've raised a wonderful girl. Thank you for hosting us and for bringing us into your home."
"Cheers!" Jane called, raising her glass once again in the air. She tossed a quick glance at Phillip. "What was it? HaikuHookah?"
"Sante!" Frankie echoed, eliciting a surprised glance from Jane. "What?" he shrugged. "I can learn things too, you know. When in France..."
"... learn all you can from the French girls at the bar," Tommy teased, grinning.
"I think this has gotten away from us," Jane whispered to Maura, raising her glass once again. "Alright, a final cheers, to Dordogne, canoes, and castles."
"Cheers!" Maura offered, raising her glass once again, and prompting one more round of clinks.
As they delved into even more platters of food, Jane turned to Maura, giving her a smile. "How's it going over there, National Lampoon's? You alright with how this day trip turned out?"
She watched as Maura's gaze traveled slowly around the table, taking in the breadth of their combined family, and smiled back at her. "Oui," she said cheerfully, reaching into Jane's lap and taking her hand. "Oui."
The sun dipped lower across the ocean, and Jane watched it glint across the water as she stood towel drying her hair from the bedroom terrace. After squeezing in a final game of water volleyball with Tommy and Frankie, she was more than exhausted, but the promise of a final sunset in France made her dress quickly and head downstairs.
"Jane, would you like to join us for tea?" Constance asked, peering at her from the kitchen. "Maura and Phillip are outside."
Jane closed the gap between them, glancing out the line of glass windows that showcased the patio and the pool. "Actually, I was thinking of taking Maura on a sunset walk or something. You know, it being the last night and all."
Constance looked up at her, seemingly surprised, but also impressed by the gesture. "Oh, why Jane, that sounds romantic."
"What sounds romantic?" Angela asked, walking into the kitchen and moving immediately towards the kettle, as if preparing tea with Constance was a nightly ritual.
"Jane is taking Maura for a walk along the beach to catch their last sunset here."
Angela placed a hand over her heart, her mouth dropping open. "Oh, what a romantic idea," she gushed proudly.
"So lovely," Constance agreed with a nod, placing a line of tea mugs on a small metal tray. "Absolutely lovely."
Jane put both hands up, overwhelmed by the estrogen-fueled response. "It's just a walk on the beach," she said. "Nothing to get excited about. I'm not proposing or anything." She laughed, but Angela and Constance both peered up at her, staring. "No, really, I'm notproposing or anything," she confirmed, suddenly itching to get out of the kitchen.
"Well, you must take some dessert along with you," Constance suggested. "And a bottle of red."
"And a blanket," Angela chimed in, raising a finger.
"Ah, yes," Constance agreed. "There's a tapestry in the hall closet that is perfect for picnics. I'll get it for you." As she passed, she patted Jane on the arm. "Your mother taught you well," she said with an approving nod.
Jane glanced teasingly at her mother. "That's right, you taught me all about those long lesbian walks on the beach."
Angela rolled her eyes, opening the refrigerator and pulling out a small chocolate cake, slicing two small pieces and wrapping them delicately. After a few more moments of watching Angela and Constance swoon over a small picnic basket, which they readily handed over to Jane, she headed outside, feeling more like Goldilocks than Don Juan.
Maura sat next to her father on the patio, a printed page in her lap. "I believe Splantos is an island, not a peninsula," she said, pointing to a paragraph.
Phillip cocked his head. "Technically it is still peninsula."
Maura looked at him thoughtfully. "No, no it's not," she rebutted. "After the tsunami in 2002 the strait flooded, isolating it from the rest of the continent."
"Yes, but according to the Center for Geo Boundaries, it's still classified as a peninsula."
Jane's head flitted back and forth between them, unsure of how long she could follow their conversation before falling asleep on her feet. "I hate to interrupt this engaging debate," she said with a grin. "But do you mind if I borrow Maura for awhile?"
"Not at all," Phillip said, clearing his throat as he peered up at her. "We could go on like this all night."
Maura stood, handing the pages back to him. "It's an island."
"Oh, good lord," Jane sighed, grabbing Maura's hand. "I'm saving you both from yourselves."
Maura chuckled, following along behind her, appraising the basket she held. "Don't you look dainty," she said with a smile. "Is that a bottle of wine in your basket or are you happy to see me?"
Jane laughed, tossing a look over her shoulder and catching Maura's self-satisfied expression. "Let me handle the jokes, okay?" she said, leading her down the narrow, grassy path that lead to the beach. She didn't know the foot trails around the house as well as Maura, but she had found one particular spot during an afternoon exploration that she desperately wanted to go back to before they left. Rather than walk along the shore, Jane pulled Maura along another sandy offshoot. "I found a spot the other day while you were busy reading your magazine candy," she explained, raising her voice over the sea breeze. "Of course, Dora the Explorer, I'm sure that you probably have already seen it."
"I haven't seen it with you."
The words warmed Jane despite the nip in the early evening air, and she squeezed Maura's hand. They walked back up shore, along a smaller, rocky path that led to a small ledge overlooking the sandy shore beneath them, the blue expanse of water yawning out beyond it. Jane spread out the blanket as Maura stepped to the edge, inhaling the pre-sunset air.
"I used to come here all the time," she said. "I can't believe this is the place you found."
"It's peaceful, huh?" Jane concurred, settling down on the blanket and stretching her legs out in front of her.
Maura nodded, joining her. "And the underside of the ledge has one of the most extensive displays of lichens I've seen in this area."
Jane gave an uncertain nod, looking about her as if whatever species Maura was referring to was about to join them on the blanket. "Right... that's why I chose it."
Maura nestled closer to her. "It's a symbiotic organism of mycobiont and a cyanobacterium." She caught Jane's blank stare, and explained further. "It's essentially a type of fungus."
Jane scrunched her nose, but waved her hand sarcastically. "See," she insisted. "Tell me I don't know how to do romance."
Maura laughed, peering back out to the sea, which was now burnt with a shade of orange from the setting sun. "I know we haven't had much time alone," she said. "But I really am glad that our families were here together."
"I'm glad our families didn't kill each other," Jane echoed. "Although there was one point today when I thought your dad might tip Frankie and Tommy's canoe."
Maura giggled. "He wouldn't have. My father doesn't have a strong vindictive receptor in his brain." She cocked her head. "He can at times be a bit of a snob."
Jane shook her head, reaching for the wine and pouring two glasses, not surprised that Constance and Angela had remembered to pack them. "He's not a snob. He just knows way too much. He's like you."
Maura raised her glass with a smile. "To more sunsets in Aquitaine."
Jane met her glass with her own, the small clink echoing against the rocks around them. "You know, I used to think nothing would make me want to retire." She glanced down at the isolated shore, a pelican patrolling the rocks. "This, however, this might make me want to pack my bags and move to France."
Maura shook her head. "You'd get bored here."
"Excuse me?" Jane asked, setting her glass down. "I don't think so: pool, beach, warm weather, you in a swimsuit. How would I ever get bored?"
"You're an extrovertis mortalis. You get your energy from other people." She waved out at the empty beach. "And as you can see, there's not much in the way of other people here."
"There's you," Jane said, smiling as she took another long sip of wine. They refilled their glasses intermittently as they watched the sun creep its way closer to the water, finally sinking beneath it. Jane swallowed, setting her empty glass down beside her. The wine, the sunset, or maybe just Maura, was making her a little loopy. "Okay, this isn't going to sound very scientific, but isn't fun to think the sun is just taking a dip in the water and cooling off until morning?"
Maura raised an amused eyebrow at her as she took a last sip of her wine, and for a moment Jane felt a rush of nervousness, as if she'd shared something dumb rather than endearing. But Maura surprised her, setting her glass down and climbing onto her lap, straddling her hips and staring intently at her. "I love what goes on inside that brain of yours."
Jane shrugged. "There's a lot of sports metaphors that go on in here. I doubt you'd love that."
Maura didn't break eye contact as she laughed slightly, but still nodded. "I love that, too." Her eyes were light and glassy from the wine, but her voice held a sobering strength. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Jane whispered. "And not just because there's a sun setting behind us and I feel like I'm in a movie. I love you in France, I love you in Boston..." she waved her hand out into the air. "I love you everywhere."
Maura moved in closer, silencing her with a slow, deep kiss, her fingers tussling Jane's windblown ponytail. When she finally pulled back, her eyes were half-closed, but she smiled. "What's going on in that brain of yours now?"
"I don't think I'm thinking with my brain right now," Jane uttered, her hips inching up to meet Maura's.
"Technically, you are. The temporal lobe connects with the nerve endings in the - "
"Oh, shut up," Jane said, reaching upward and pulling her down on top of her. Their lips met again, wine-coated tongues probing against one another. Maura's dress rode upwards, and Jane helped inch it up further, sliding her hands underneath it. Her hands occupied with keeping her balance, Maura let her mouth do the work, grazing her lips along Jane's jaw line and down to her neck before letting them dip further towards her breasts.
"Are we doing this here?" Jane whispered, her hands tentatively caressing the backside of Maura's hips.
With the darkness now descending around them as even more of a cover, Maura had no intention of stopping, and let one hand slide underneath Jane's shirt, finding a bare breast. "Can you think of a better place?" she replied, her voice barely registering over the sway of the tall grasses around them.
"I told you my brain isn't exactly working right now," Jane answered, seeking to silence their banter by switching their positions and pressing her lips to Maura's once again, finding her tongue even needier. Her hands found their way to the fabric between Maura's legs, and she inched her way underneath them, feeling a warmth that was even hotter compared to the chill of the air around them. She wanted to be inside it.
As if reading her thoughts, Maura's hand slid down to Jane's cargo pants, flipping open the button and pushing the zipper down, her own hands seeking the same warmth."Remember, sound carries out here," she whispered breathlessly.
"I don't think I care right now," Jane moaned into her mouth. All she cared about was the feel of Maura on top of her, inside her, around her. She raised only slightly on one arm, wanting to see the woman beneath her. Maura's eyes caught hers and for a brief moment they were beyond words, lost in a world comprised only of senses, sharing the slow build of pleasure until they finally arched into one another, gasping.
As their shudders died, Maura slipped out of Jane, but only to wrap her arms around her, pulling her head down to her shoulder. Jane enjoyed the moment of relaxation, her body fully melting into the one beneath her, both of them still warm from. Her lips began a meditation along Maura's neck, lazily kissing her.
"I see stars," Maura whispered.
"It was good, wasn't it?" Jane murmured, still kissing along her neck.
She felt Maura tap the back of her shoulder. "No, I mean, you can see the stars out here," she laughed as Jane rolled over with a heavy sigh. "But you were good, yes."
Jane laughed sheepishly, but she had little time to be embarrassed, as the stars did seem even more pronounced, the sky a clear canvas for them. "Can we just stay here?" she mumbled into the blonde hair that spilled over her shoulder.
"We could," Maura replied, tilting her head slightly to catch Jane's eye. "But I'm kind of looking forward to going back home with you."
"What, to the cold winter?" Jane scoffed. "I've decided that we have to live in a city where I get the chance to see you in a swimsuit more often. Or at least I'll blast the heat at my place so you're forced to wear things like this." She fingered the thin dress Maura wore.
"Keep your heat as high as you'd like," Maura said with a laugh. "You never stay there anymore."
Jane shrugged, unable to argue. She'd spent most of the past three months at Maura's house, and had even managed to secure a small splice of her closet for a few work suits. She thought for a moment, finally deciding to give voice to an idea that had nudged itself inside her brain before they left for France. "Maybe when we get home, we should talk about... you know... figuring out what makes sense."
Maura's eyes moved towards her. "Are you saying you want to shack in with me?"
Jane laughed. "How can you remember all that medical jargon and not remember simple slang? It's 'shack up', and no, I'm not saying that in so many words. I'm just saying it's something to think about... one day."
Maura nodded, smiling as she returned her gaze to the sky. "You'd have to get rid of that boxing dummy."
"You'd have to make more room in your closet."
"You're the only girl I would ever allow to take over half of my closet space." She grinned, sidling in closer to Jane and laying her head on her chest. "See, going back to Boston isn't so bad. We're just moving onto the next chapter."
Jane smiled, her eyes following a line of stars in the sky. Whatever the next chapter did hold, she was certain that she was marking the end of a long, meandering story whose sole purpose had been to lead her to Maura; now, they could begin writing their own epic together.
Well, this has been really fun, mostly thanks to you all. Thank you for reading, and a special thanks to those who have reviewed; it's been a pleasure getting to chat with all of you. Thanks to Cat and Ren for reading through my sporadic drafts.
Updates to A Masked Ball, A New Ending, Deconstructing Memory, and Fifty Shades are forthcoming, as well as a brand new story. Until then, there's always Rizzles Moments over on Tumblr. :)