Notes and Disclaimers: This story is one of a series of lesbian fictions written with 90’s lesbian porn comic magazine MIST in mind, although, ultimately, I never do put in nearly enough sex to make it a real tribute. All characters and situations, copyright E. Friedman.
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Olivia walked down the hall, her heels clicking loudly on the tiles. The sound of a floor waxer could be heard as a distant whine. Voices filled the background space as people asked directions, chatted, talked in the classrooms.
It had been many years since she had last been in a high school but it smelled exactly the same as she remembered. Industrial cleaner, sweat, metal, chlorine bleach.
She found the room number that was printed on her confirmation sheet and stepped into the doorway. Although there were still ten minutes before class was to begin, the room was mostly full. Olivia picked her way past bags and coats hanging awkwardly off of chair backs to an empty desk, past glances of vague interest in a fellow student.
With a sense of amusement, irony and a little nervousness, Olivia took the new school notebook from her bag, and a pencil, laying them neatly on the desk. Her coat and bag hung over her chair back, Olivia sat, smiled briefly at her neighbor to the right (an older woman who looked a little lost,) and pulled out the brochure from her notebook.
“Clinton Hills Adult Education Autumn Semester” in large block letters filled the booklet cover. Olivia turned to a dog-eared page and re-read the class description.
“Learn to Love Accounting,” it began. “Accounting is the language of Business. Learn the joy of accounting in a class with other adult professionals like yourself. This class will cover the accounting process through a full accounting cycle. Accounting will enrich your personal and professional development. No advanced math or accounting skills necessary. Instructor: H. Broward.”
Olivia smiled briefly at the enthusiasm of the description. The joy of accounting? Was that even possible? She checked her watch. Five more minutes. She wondered what H. Broward would be like. Middle aged man, she guessed. Blue pinstriped suit, cheap tie. After all, this was adult education for the town program, not a prestigious teaching position.
With two minutes to go before class was to begin a woman entered the room and walked up to the blackboard. Without shedding her coat, she wrote, “Hailey Broward, CPA” on the board, then laid her bag on the desk and removed her coat. She opened her bag, pulled out a pile of handouts and set her bag on the floor, then looked up at the class with a pleasant smile.
“Good evening. My name is Hailey Broward, I’m a CPA and I’ll be helping you learn to love accounting.” Her smile warmed, as if she understood the low probability of this actually occurring. “I’ve been teaching this class here at Clinton Hills for the last five years, thank you for joining me this semester.” As she spoke, she walked across room stopping at the front desk of each row, and handing the person who sat there a small pile of handouts to pass back.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said apologetically, “I am supposed to take attendance. I don’t plan on doing it except this once, so we don’t mark someone as here when they’re applying for a refund.” She grinned. The class, Olivia noted, was too busy appraising the teacher to pay attention to the joke. Olivia was no different.
Hailey Broward would probably not be considered “good-looking” by most. Her jaw was too strong for a woman’s, her cheekbones too high to be pretty, but with her long curly black hair and pale skin, she reminded Olivia of a Greek statue. When she looked up, Olivia could see that her eyes were the same dark gray as the suit she wore.
“Because this is the first class and I’d like to get to know all of you, I’m going to ask you to bear with me as we engage in the traditional time waster and eye-rollingly awful ‘Introduce yourself and tell us why you’re here’ exercise. I’ll start.
“My name is Hailey Broward, I’m a CPA with an MBA from Stanford. I’ve worked here in town for my own firm for the last fifteen years. I began in Accounting with a part-time job in a billing department when I was in high school and realized that I loved the work – and never looked back. I’m here to help you see the beauty in accounting, and to fix the damage inflicted upon you by inadequate high school and college accounting classes.” The sincerity in her expression was unmistakable. “Let’s start from this side of the class room, moving from front to back along the rows.” The teacher gestured to the row nearest the window.
As predicted, the exercise was a massive time waster. At least one person per row became flustered at the request and either talked forever, gave an unedited biography practically from their moment of birth, or just rambled incoherently.
“Great, so you’ve decided to learn accounting after being an art museum curator?” Hailey nodded, prompting the next person.
While the introductions moved slowly through the rest of the class, Olivia considered what she would say. Not everything that brought her here, certainly. At last it was her turn.
“My name is Olivia Munroe, I work in an office as a receptionist. I thought it would be good to brush up on and expand my accounting skills, to increase my chances in the job market.”
Hailey smiled thankfully at Olivia, clearly pleased at the succinct introduction. “It’s a pleasure to have you in the class, Ms. Munroe.” Her attention turned to the gentleman sitting behind Olivia and the introductions continued.
Olivia let the voices fade, thinking about all that she had not said. About how she had come to Clinton Hills to live with Risa and about how, after twelve years, Risa had walked out one day, saying she was bored and needed something new, leaving her with the mortgage to a house, and half the income to pay it. How Olivia’s boss had learned the whole story when Olivia broke down in tears one day at work and how she had offered Olivia a significant raise if she could take over some of the accounting for the business. Olivia thanked Margaret for that kindness silently.
At last the introductions ground to an awkward end. Hailey Broward immediately took control of the space. She walked up to the board, erased her name and wrote, “She walks in beauty like the night.”
“What is the most significant thing about this line of poetry?” Hailey asked the class, who stared at her dumbfounded. This was an *accounting* class, right?
A young man in the back corner raised his hand. ‘It was written by Lord Byron, whose daughter Ada Lovelace founded scientific computing.”
Hailey applauded the answer, but shook her head. “Great answer, but no, what I mean was – what’s significant about this particular line of poetry?”
Olivia considered. It fits you, she thought. Hailey Broward was pale and dark, a shadow moving through the night.
“She *walks* in *beau*ty *like* the *night*.” Hailey Broward recited. “It’s the rhythm. Poetry is based on rhythm. Even poetry that is not bound by rhythm has its own patterns. Like music. It doesn’t matter what the poem is – each piece has its own identity because of that intrinsic rhythm. Accounting is like poetry. It has a rhythm, a flow. There’s harmony in the numbers and music…well, after all, music is ruled by numbers.” Hailey glanced at the clock in the back corner of the room. “For the remainder of our time, please read the packet I gave you at the beginning of class. It’s very basic. Don’t worry, I won’t be doing quizzes – it’s up to you to do the work for this class, you’re all adults. Tonight, I’d like each of you to come up with at least one question about the material. Ask anything – no one is allowed to be afraid here. We’re all in this together.” And with that, Hailey Broward smiled. Olivia found herself smiling back.
She had no idea if she’d learn anything this class, but it certainly seemed like it was going to be an interesting trip.
This first handout was, really, quite basic. But the language was simple and easy to understand, and the situations, while theoretical, were something that anyone might encounter. Home expenses, business budgets, income. Nothing gave her a feeling of immediate inadequacy – there was plenty of time for that when they got past the basics. She thought about Hailey Broward’s unorthodox approach to accounting.
As they had gone over the packet, Hailey Broward (as Olivia continued to call the other woman in her head) had cajoled and coaxed answers and commentary from every person in the class.
“All right,” the teacher clapped her hands. “Now it’s question time. You must have had at least one question about the packet. Let’s have ’em.” She looked around the room. “Mrs. Sears..? How about you?”
Mrs. Sears was the older woman who sat next to Olivia. “I…,” she cleared her throat, “I don’t really have any…”
Hailey Broward shook her head, but responded with a gentle voice. “You do. You’re just not used to feeling comfortable asking straight out. In this class, you can ask anything you want. Go ahead.”
“Oh, well…,” Mrs. Sears cleared her throat again. “I guess…well, don’t the questions seem a bit…ahem, ah…basic?”
Hailey nodded largely. “Yes, they might to someone who has taken an Accounting class before, or who works with numbers regularly but…” Hailey perched herself on the edge of the desk. Against the dull color of her jacket, her hair was luminous in the bright fluorescent lighting of the classroom. “However, we humans are funny creatures – we can’t actually learn something we don’t already know. So, this was a way to make sure all of us were using the same words in the same ways. Now we can talk about these terms and know we understand what we all mean.”
Olivia nodded without even thinking. Hailey Broward, a woman who loved the rhythm of numbers and cared about words. She raised her hand.
“Ms. Munroe,” Hailey Broward acknowledged her smoothly. Not Miss, Olivia noticed, not Mrs. – Ms. for her.
“Why are the questions in alphabetical order?” There was an intake of breath around the room and a snigger.
Hailey Broward’s eyes flashed as she answered, the smallest upturn at the corner of her lips. “Because accounting is about patterns and rhythm. Congratulations on catching that.
Olivia met Hailey Broward’s approving gaze with one of her own.
“Tonight, we’re going to do something a little different,” Hailey Broward began. She took off a tweed jacket to reveal a brick red dress, belted around the waist. She pulled out the usual sheaf of papers and walked around the room, passing them out.
She handed Olivia her packet with, “Tonight, each of you has got your own unique set of problems to work on. And,” she moved on to the woman who sat in front of Olivia as she continued. “I’d like you to try and work them out during class time.”
Hailey Broward completed her circuit. “I talk about patterns all the time. Of course, I’m learning your patterns every night we’re together. You may have already realized that we’ve shifted in the past few weeks to a more totally business-focused perspective. Yes, Mrs. Gage?”
A woman of roughly Olivia’s age asked, “Is this a quiz? I thought you said you don’t do quizzes.”
Shaking her head, Hailey Broward assured her it was not. “I won’t be grading these. I just want to see how much you’ve picked up and what areas are your strengths and weaknesses. We only have 6 weeks left and I want to spend those six weeks giving you as much confidence in your ability to learn more when you leave here.”
“So, in a sense,” said the young man in the corner, who Olivia now knew was named Singleton, “it’s a personality test.”
Hailey Broward smiled at that. “Yes, you could say that.”
Thoughtfully, a few with openly confused expressions, everyone bent their heads to complete the non-quiz.
Hailey Broward watched everyone with a pleased look. When the work was complete, she collected the papers. When she reached Olivia’s desk, she reached out for the paper as Olivia lifted it to her. Their hands brushed and Olivia pulled back quickly. Hailey Broward merely smiled and plucked the paper from the desk
This, Olivia thought to herself, is what people mean when they say it was a long day.
Work had been incredibly busy, starting at the moment she had walked in, right through the moment, almost two hours late, that she had left.
She felt worn to a nub.
She had so much to do at home, that she almost unconsciously veered away from it. The wash was undone; she had at least three errands she’d been putting off all week. Although she was tired, the idea of going home and facing all that did not appeal at all. She got off the bus two stops early and headed down the street.
There was no gay bar in Clinton Falls. There was no women’s bar, either. The nearest city was almost two hours away. There was a bar run by an ambiguously gendered individual where no one – not stranger or old-timer, gay or straight, anything or nothing at all, was turned away. When you stepped through the doors at Abby’s, you entered an unwritten contract to not be an asshole, or you were quickly ushered back out onto the street.
Olivia ordered herself a glass of wine and found herself a seat at a wobbly table. She took a sip, trying not to notice the thin aftertaste, and closed her eyes. One drink and then she’d go home.
There was loud laughter from a corner where a gaggle of Goth kids were huddled, probably too young to drink, but where else were they going to be able to hang out in a town like Clinton Falls? There was no mall, no teen center, and the only dark, lonely parking lot was the one in front of the municipal buildings.
Another mouthful of the cheap white wine and Olivia felt her shoulders relaxing.
She would finish this glass and then face her empty house and her pile of chores and her homework….
“Is this seat taken?” A woman’s voice said.
Olivia opened her eyes as she waved the newcomer to the remaining seat, surprised to find that her companion was Hailey Broward.
“Hello,” she said, a little awkwardly.
“Hello,” Hailey Broward said, smiling. “How are you tonight, Ms. Munroe?”
“Fine, thank you. Please, call me Olivia.”
“Olivia. You can call me Hailey.” The teacher made a face as she drank from a glass of red wine. “God, this stuff is bad.”
Olivia laughed. “I think they buy it from the supermarket in boxes.”
“Probably,” Hailey agreed. Pushing her hair back from her neck, she said, “I haven’t seen you here before.”
“No. I don’t come here very often anymore.” Olivia took a quick sip of wine to cover up the rest of the sentence, but the other woman didn’t seem to have noticed her slip. “How about you? Do you come here often?”
Hailey shook her head, as she took out a scrunchy and wrapped it around the ponytail of curls she held. “Not much. In fact,” she looked away, then back at Olivia with an embarrassed grin, “I only stopped in because I thought I saw you come in.”
It might have been the wine, Olivia thought, and it might have been something else, but all of a sudden she was feeling rather warm. She felt a little giddy. Maybe it was the wine, after all.
“Would you be interested in a glass of wine that isn’t terrible?’ Hailey Broward asked. “A friend brought it as a present, and it was so good, I bought some for myself.” “It’s a Pinot Noir. I don’t know if you drink that, but it is very good.”
Olivia found herself responding before she even had a chance to think, feeling excited and strange all at once. “That sounds nice.”
Hailey was smiling – it looked like she was trying not to laugh. “I live close by. I have my car…”
Olivia nodded quickly and stood.
The whole way back to Hailey’s house, Olivia was of two minds. One part of her said that she was imagining things. But the other part, the part that thought the nape of Hailey Broward’s neck was fascinating, the part that wanted her to pull the car over right now and kiss her, was much, much louder. Even with only a mouthful or two of wine in her, it was not hard to see that Hailey Broward was not just looking for someone to keep her company while she drank Pinot Noir.
The apartment building was new for Clinton Falls. A high-end building that some forward-thinking or hopeless romantic had built for some far-future day when wealth would find this small town. The parking bays were well lit and the elevator fast and quiet.
Olivia tried not to gape like a provincial at the lavish lobby and plushly carpeted hall, but when Hailey Broward unlocked the door to 314, she sighed.
“It’s beautiful.” Olivia took in the modern furnishings, the wide picture window that looked over the river behind the town. Her own house was nice, but months of neglect had left it looking dumpy. This apartment spoke of money well spent and a weekly visit by a cleaning woman.
Hailey Broward took Olivia’s coat and gestured her to the sofa. “I’ll be back with the wine. Do you want cheese or something with that?”
Olivia stood in front of half-filled bookshelves, shaking her head no. ‘No, I’m fine, thank you.” She pointed to a shelf. “You read Hammet?” Hailey looked up from where she stood in the kitchen, the bottle of wine in one hand, an opener in the other
“Oh that. Actually, it’s not mine. It belongs to a friend…..” Hailey laughed. Olivia thought of her own bookshelves, still filled with Risa’s books. Olivia just hadn’t gotten around to throwing them out. Just like the clothes that filled half the closet, and most of the items in the attic.
Olivia met the other woman halfway between the sofa and the kitchen, holding out a hand to take a wineglass from Hailey Broward. They sat on the sofa, Hailey poured the wine. They drank and, at the same time, sighed contentedly. They laughed and relaxed.
“Much, much better,” Olivia smiled brightly. “You’re right, this is very good.” She smiled contentedly at Hailey Broward but, when her gaze reached those gray eyes, she couldn’t catch her breath. All of a sudden, Olivia was tongue-tied. Here she was, sitting with a beautiful woman on her sofa, in her apartment and she had no idea what to say or do. She drank her wine, hoping to come up with something clever.
“Olivia,” Hailey Broward said, leaning forward. “You can relax.”
Olivia put her glass down, smiling a little self-deprecatingly. Her eyes remained on the glass. “My lover left me about a year ago. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to since, practically.” She ached as she said it, hoping that she wasn’t half as pathetic as she felt.
Hailey Broward’s hand covered Olivia’s, but she said nothing,
Olivia looked up. Hailey Broward was close, but not quite too close. There was something comforting about her presence and something charged between them. Olivia straightened her spine and moved towards Hailey Broward for a kiss.
Her lips were cool, her tongue tasted like wine. Olivia felt it was all so surreal, touching a woman again, a woman so unlike Risa that it would be impossible to compare them, even if she wanted to. She did not want to.
They kissed gently for a little while, each taking time to feel the textures and flavors of the other. The brush of tongue against tongue was gentle, their lips soft upon one another. There was fire building inside, but they were in no rush. Olivia breathed deeply while kissing Hailey Broward’s neck. There was a slight scent of something complex and warm.
“Olivia,” Hailey Broward breathed softly, running her hands along the other woman’s jawline. “Let’s move to the bedroom.”
Without a word, Olivia stood up and let Hailey Broward lead her to the bedroom.
Hailey Broward took time to undress herself every time she removed a layer from Olivia. It was a small thing, but Olivia was thankful at this kindness. It had been a long time since she was on display in front of another woman. She was thinner than she had been 4 years ago, but she felt a little self-conscious about the lack of tone in her muscles and the pale whiteness of her skin, until Hailey switched on a small lamp by the bedside that cast a soft, rose-tinted glow onto them. Olivia found herself relaxing into the other woman’s embrace with a small chuckle.
“You think of everything, don’t you Hailey Broward?” Olivia said, leaning down over the other woman.
“I try,” Hailey Broward replied with insufferable confidence, as she fell backward onto the bed
The sound of a phone ringing woke Olivia up. She tensed for a moment, unsure of where she was or why the phone sounded strange. Her cellphone? No…she cast about for context and found herself staring at Hailey Broward’s back. As she traced the line of the spine with her eyes, Olivia remembered where she was and why. Her eyes closed as she replayed the feeling of the other woman’s skin on her own and the taste of Hailey Broward on her lips.
Trying to be as quiet as possible, Olivia slipped out of the covers, but Hailey Broward shifted slightly, with a quiet moan. Olivia stiffened, trying to make no noise, until she could hear Hailey Broward’s breathing relax back into full sleep. Still holding her breath, Olivia collected her clothes from the floor and headed over to the bathroom.
She put herself together as well as she could without comb or toothbrush, and slipped quietly from the bathroom out into the living room. She made her way to the kitchen area, her heart pounding at the idea of rummaging through a strange woman’s cabinets for a glass and something to drink. Olivia was almost giggling, she felt so hyper and she had to breathe a few times to calm herself.
A lucky guess landed her the right cabinet for a glass, and she opened the refrigerator expecting – so not at all surprised to find – bottled water, which she poured with unsteady hands.
Sipping at the water, she closed the refrigerator. She looked over the magnets and other accretions. Her eyes fell on a postcard. It was turned around so the handwritten message was visible. Olivia read it, then moved away to look at the rest of the apartment. Photo on the wall that looked artful, rather than meaningful. Hailey Broward has no family photos of graduation pictures on her sideboard, just a single framed picture of two young women, their arms around each other smiling. Olivia frowned down at the picture. She picked it up, and read the inscription written across the front.
“Hailey and Morgan.”
Hailey Broward was younger, yes, and her hair was shorter then. Olivia turned her focus on the other woman in the portrait. “Morgan” was even younger than Hailey, with clean-cut looks.
“Morgan,” Olivia whispered, then held up the cup she drank from. “M” was painted on the side of the cup. Just one letter. Olivia put the mug down hastily, as her heart began to race. In the bathroom, she could remember seeing a second toothbrush, Hammett books that belonged to a friend….Olivia felt herself tensing up, queasiness rising in her belly.
She returned to the refrigerator and looked again at the post card. “Miss you, H! I wish you were here, you’d love it. Can’t wait to tell you all about it. Love you. M”
“M,” Olivia felt as if someone was squeezing her head in a vice. Her hand over her mouth, she thought she might throw up. Reeling away from the kitchen, she had just grabbed up her coat and purse, when the bedroom door opened and Hailey Broward, wrapped in a dressing gown, yawning, came out into the hall. Choking back a sob, Olivia opened the door and ran out as fast as she could, ignoring Hailey Broward’s surprised voice calling “Olivia! Olivia?”
Curled up in the beaten up rocking chair, Olivia keened softly. The house was dark, but not dark enough. She threw a blanket over her head, quietly moaning out the misery she felt. Two days had gone by and she was still disgusted with Hailey Broward and with herself. Another moan wrenched itself from between her lips, petering out in a soft, wounded whine.
A one-night stand, a cheap affair. Olivia sobbed into her blanket, already wet with tears. Risa had left her, and what had she become? Someone to sleep with when your lover was away. Olivia cursed Risa, Hailey Broward and herself.
It was Sunday night and there was no way she could work tomorrow. Tomorrow? Olivia laughed hoarsely. Maybe I’ll quit. Maybe I’ll just stay here and die and Risa can sell this awful house and Hailey Broward can forget me.
She forced herself to get up and call Margaret. She sounded so awful that she was instantly excused “until she felt better.” Poor Margaret. Olivia felt terrible lying to her. Olivia felt terrible, period.
When Risa had left her, she hadn’t cried for days, maybe weeks. Every day she had gone into work, like nothing had changed. Nothing had changed really, they had been living separate lives for some time. This time, Olivia could not stop crying. Why? She wondered. I was with Risa for twelve years and it barely hurt to lose her. I was with Hailey Broward for one night and I want to die?
Olivia fell asleep in the rocking chair, still crying.
Olivia had taken to sleeping in the rocking chair. She couldn’t bear to lay in the bed she had shared with Risa. Hunger and thirst were sated as quickly and meaninglessly as possible. Olivia was starting to lose her mind, she knew it. There was no more food in the house, she was out of shampoo. Her clothes needed to be washed. She needed to do something, but she couldn’t move. It was all just too much. And why? She argued with herself. Who is it for?
She could see the postman through the window slats, hear the rattle of the mail slot. Days of mail lay in the foyer. Olivia wondered how long it would take to starve and if anyone would find her and when.
A car pulled up to the driveway. Olivia shrank back from the window. She knew that car and knew who drove it.
Olivia huddled down into a small ball, blanket over her head, hoping that the other woman would just go away.
She could hear the car door close and footsteps get closer and closer to the house. The a noise at the door, and the doorbell. Olivia tried to not breathe too loudly. The doorbell again, then a knock.
“Olivia? Are you in there?”
Like a punch to the gut, Olivia lost her breath. Sucking in air as carefully as possible, she tried to calm the blood that pounded in her head.
“Olivia? Let me i…” The voice had started with a commanding, no, demanding tone, but petered out. There was a long silence, then, “Olivia. You don’t have to let me in, or even come near the door, but will you talk to me? Please?”
Olivia said nothing for the longest time. One part of her desperately wanted to hear Hailey Broward’s voice, the other feared the inevitable rejection that would come. Why was she even here? Olivia couldn’t decide what Hailey Broward would gain from coming to see her. Slowly, Olivia rose from the chair and approached the door.
“I’m here,” she rasped after a moment.
“Olivia!” Hailey Broward’s voice was louder, as if she was pressing herself to the door. “Please, please, tell me why you ran away…why?” Hailey Broward’s voice broke. A sound like a sob came through the door.
Olivia didn’t know what to say. Literally. What could she say? How would she explain that she found being “the other woman,” an offense? How could she explain that her pride simply couldn’t handle being treated that way?
“The…there was a postcard…” Olivia started lamely, then broke down as the tears started up again. “And the picture….” she put her face in her hands.
“A postcard….? You mean….” Hailey Broward’s voice was confused, concerned, thoughtful. “The one on the refrigerator?”
Olivia nodded, knowing Hailey Broward could not see her.
“Postcard.” Hailey Broward’s voice changed again, as if a puzzle piece had fallen into place. “The postcard from Morgan. Oh god Olivia.”
Olivia couldn’t hear anything for the longest time. Then she heard short, gasping breaths. Was Hailey Broward crying or laughing?
“Oh Olivia…I’m so sorry.” Hailey Broward’s voice cracked again, and Olivia realized she was crying. “Morgan is….” Olivia braced for the truth. “Morgan is my half-sister.” Hailey’s voice dropped unintelligibly for some words, but then rose again, “…she stays with me when she’s in town.”
Olivia swallowed, hard, against the pain in her raw throat. Sister? Could she even believe that? Before she had a chance to second-guess herself, Olivia unlocked the door. If Hailey Broward came in….
Hailey Broward flung the door open and came in in a rush. Scooping Olivia and the blanket into her arms. Olivia sagged with exhaustion, unable to break away.
“‘Sorry’ seems so empty.” Haily Broward murmured. “And it feels strange, too, because no one did anything wrong. But, truly, Olivia, I am sorry I caused you even a moment of pain.” She pushed herself to arm’s length and looked down at Olivia, her face taught. “I like you.”
Olivia opened up her mouth then closed it. “Liked” her? What on earth? What does that even mean? She opened her mouth again, found she had no response, and shrugged internally.
Hailey Broward watched this play out, turned and shut the door.
“I like you,” she repeated. “I think I could love you. Whether as a friend or a lover I don’t know yet. But I’d like to get to know you.” Hailey Broward’s face was a study. “Perhaps I should rush into it and just say ‘I love you’ like everyone else does, then sort it out later, but I like things in the right order.” The smile on her face was self-deprecating. “I’m an accountant.”
Olivia closed her eyes. The precipice was too near, too steep. “I need to shower,” was her only reply. Hailey Broward let her go in silence.
Allegorical living had never really worked for Olivia. She had not been able to summon success from writing her goal down 15 times a day, and inspirational posters had never left her feeling inspired. As she lathered her hair with shampoo, she noted that nothing in this shower made her feel especially clean, soul-wise. There was no sense of her burden being lessened as the water ran down the drain. Then again, she did feel…numb, she supposed.
Toweled, dressed, Olivia walked back towards the kitchen, where she stopped dead in her tracks. Hailey Broward, her shoes kicked off and an apron tied around her waist, stirred something in a pot. Olivia stared, unable to form words.
Hailey Broward looked up and smiled. “Feel better?” When Olivia did not respond, she set the spoon down and walked towards where the other woman stood. Olivia felt the numbness leave her in a wave, followed by exhaustion. She reached blindly for a chair and sat heavily.
“Olivia.” Hailey Broward spoke calmly. “Tell me everything.”
Unable to resist the simple command, Olivia did. How Risa and she met, how they had been happy, until Risa had wanted to move back to her home town. How Olivia took everything she had to get the mortgage, while Risa worked her ass off to pay the bills. Risa always had a job, often two, and was tired all the time from working long hours, sometime seven days a week. How when Olivia found the position in her office, it was so nice to have people to talk to, because Risa was asleep or away at work so often. And how she and Risa had grown apart and just never noticed it, having next to nothing to talk about on those rare occasions they had a meal together. Risa had been a good person. Without either of them noticing, their relationship had just dried up.
“Risa never came into the kitchen. She didn’t cook”. Olivia said dully, “I did all the cooking for both of us. Coming out here, and seeing you there…it was so alien that someone else was….” Olivia stared off into the distance for a moment.
“You said that she left you.” Hailey Broward prompted.
Hesitating for a moment, Olivia decided that, if anything was going to free her, it was telling the whole story, without leaving anything out. She took a deep breath. “One day, Risa woke up late. She had a very rare day off and she was meeting a friend she hadn’t seen in a long time. We hadn’t fought, she wasn’t distant or anything. We had breakfast together and had just washed up the dishes when she stopped, just about where I’m standing and said, ‘I’m leaving, Livy. I’m bored and exhausted. You’re suffocating here. Sell the house and go somewhere more interesting. Goodbye.’ She left and never came back.
“It took me a long time to admit that she was right. I hated this town and resented her for bringing me here and that resentment had been choking me for the better part of a decade. But now…” Olivia looked up to where Hailey Broward stood. “..I think I’ve grown to like this town after all.”
Standing, Olivia took a deep breath. “Thank you for coming today. I’m fairly sure you saved my life.”
Hailey Broward smiled thinly. “I hope it wouldn’t have come to that.” She stepped away to get whatever was on the stove. “Nonetheless, I’m going to make you eat, then I’m going to leave so you can sleep. You will promise me that you won’t do yourself a harm and I’ll come back tomorrow after work.”
Olivia nodded and turned towards the table obediently. She’d eat, then sleep, then start again.
“Is that report ready Olivia?”
“No, you’ll have it shortly, Margaret. I’ll work late today and catch up.”
“Thank you. You look much better today.”
“I’m feeling better, thank you.” Olivia looked up from her monitor and smiled. “I really owe you for all your patience with me.”
Margaret smiled back, shaking her head. “You’ve been such a help. And now that you’re taking on the accounting, I have to time to do more…like see my grandson’s ball game. Just leave the report on my desk when you’re done. I’ll see you tomorrow.” With a wave, the older woman left the office. Olivia put her head down and finished the report up in one last push.
She’d come in early and check it in the morning then get it to Margaret. “Quarterly reports are time consuming, but once you understand the rhythm, they make a lot of sense.” For a moment, Olivia thought she had imagined it, but when she looked up, there was Hailey Broward in the doorway.
The accountant smiled. “You thought I was insane when I said that to you.”
“I still think so,” Olivia admitted, “but it doesn’t make you wrong.” She straightened up her desk and stood, grabbing her bag. “More homework tonight?” She nodded at the briefcase Hailey Broward held.
“How about a glass of wine?” Hailey Broward held out a hand to Olivia. “No school tonight.”
“That sounds nice,” Olivia said, and locked the door behind them as they left together.