iv. vintages couches and a growing collection of empty wine bottles
The conversation is immediately moved to the couch. After a hug that was half comfort, half strategic design to keep Gail in this tenuous moment of release, Holly runs her fingernails down the notches of Gail's spine and softly suggests they make their way to the living room.
It is their place.
The first night Holly ever brought Gail home, not even two weeks after they first met, they spent the entire night sprawled out on the couch drinking wine from the bottle, discussing the merits of reality television.
"Yes, I mean it. These shows have value."
"My god. Please, Holly. Please inform me of the educational values of Jersey Shore."
"Okay, well, not specifically Jersey Shore, but reality shows function as an anthropological examination of our culture."
"Sorry, I fell asleep in the middle of that sentence. What were we talking about?"
And after their first fight, when they finally got over themselves and accepted their mutually necessary presence in each other's lives, they ended up on that soft, vintage leather couch that Holly had since medical school.
She had taken to leaving the front door unlocked. It was stupid and reckless and she would have given anything for Gail to sweep inside like she owned the place and berate Holly for the ridiculous amount of danger she was placing herself in.
But every night she would have to accept that Gail wasn't going to just waltz in, and she would trudge across the house to the front door, spend a good thirty seconds determining the chances that Gail might just show up tonight, before eventually accepting the truth and flipping the lock.
After entering the second week of what felt like the most pathetic routine ever, Holly picked herself up off the couch, placed the empty wine bottle on the counter and walked to the front door.
But her door had an oval-shaped glass panel in the center that allowed her to look though to the front porch and it was doing just that that alerted her to a presence. A distinctly human presence. The curve of a spine and the back of a head featuring hair such a bright shade of blonde, it seemed to function as its own light source.
She whipped the door open so fast it was a miracle the hinges managed to stay put. The sound of the displaced air was enough to pull the blonde huddle out of her reverie and she glanced up, eyes widening at the sudden appearance.
She stood slowly and faced Holly, who still had a white-knuckle grip on the doorknob.
And there was something about the way Gail was chewing on her bottom lip and the slight lift in her shoulders that dispelled most of the anger and frustration Holly had built up since that night. Most but not all.
But it was Gail and she was there and life could start again and she no longer had to worry about the recent increase in home burglaries in her part of town.
It felt like the right thing to do when she reached over the threshold, latched onto Gail's wrist and pulled her into the house and toward the couch, all without saying a word.
It felt like the right thing to do when she pulled the latest in a long string of wine bottles, popped the cork and placed it in front of Gail, an olive branch of sorts. An invitation.
And Gail took it.
Tonight is no different. Holly hopes that the familiarity of the couch makes Gail feel safe enough to open up.
Because at this point she is just winging it.
It is exactly two minutes and seventeen seconds until Gail makes a sound. Two minutes and seventeen seconds that Holly counts out in her head because she is pretty sure that if she stops counting she will start talking and that will completely shatter whatever state of increasing openness Gail is in.
Except that Gail does finally say something and it all hurts so much that there is no way this was a good idea anymore.
"It felt good. I liked it. I liked the feeling."
And how the hell are you supposed to respond to that?
So she doesn't. She just sits there, blindingly aware that if she were to move even a muscle, Gail would interpret that as some kind of condemnation.
"I pulled the trigger and I watched him fall back and it felt good."
She looks up, finally, and the pain and self-loathing spread across her alabaster skin makes Holly want to kill that man herself, simply for making Gail feel this way.
"What the hell does that make me? I killed a man and it felt good. N-not even a man. A kid. He was a k-kid, Holly. 22 years old. A kid."
The stuttering increases and the whites of her eyes grow glassy and Holly wants to say something, anything to make this better, but there is nothing. There are no words of reassurance for when your girlfriend thinks she is a murderer. Except, maybe these.
"You did the right thing, Gail."
"No!" And Gail is off the couch, pacing back and forth, her hands pulling at the meeting of her hair and her scalp. "Nothing about it is right. Nothing about it is good."
"Not good, but baby, you saved lives that day."
"I took a life that day!" She isn't pacing anymore, but there is a crazed smile on her face that makes Holly wish she still was.
"I made a decision and a kid is dead. Dead."
Holly has to stare at her feet now because the look on Gail's face is making everything hurt even more.
"That was me. I did that. And it felt good!"
Gail's hands are in the air and her chest is heaving and Holly has never seen her quite so out of control. Which, it seems, is enough to clear her mind of the worry that this was all too much, too soon.
"Yes. You did it. You killed him."
And maybe that was a stupid thing to say, but at this point 'fuck it' is really the only way to go, because Gail's chest is still heaving but her hands are at her sides and the maniacal look is gone, replaced by utter confusion.
"You took his life. And it felt good. Does it still?"
"Does it still feel good?"
"Do you regret it? Do you spend hours of everyday going back to that moment in your mind, questioning the decision?"
Silence. But just for a moment. And then, softly, "Yes."
"Do you run through every possibility, every choice you could have made?"
"Yes." Stronger this time.
"Every possible turn of events that led up to that exact situation?"
"And knowing everything you know, every consideration you made, knowing that Traci would have almost assuredly died if you didn't, would you do it again?"
Silence. Longer this time, and Gail's eyes start darting left and right and she is shaking her head ever so slightly, like she knows what is coming but she just can't accept it.
"Look at me, Gail. You have thought about this over and over for a month now. Was there another solution? Any possible way for everyone to get out safely? Or at all?"
Gail's eyes are closed now and she is shaking her head slower. It isn't an answer to the question, but Holly pushes on, standing from the couch and stopping less than a foot away from her trembling girlfriend.
"Have you, in all this time, come up with any other possibility?"
She doesn't say anything. But she stops shaking her head and her breathing evens out and that is answer enough.
"Gail, open your eyes."
She does but it still hurts. Maybe one day it will stop.
"Would you do it again?"
It comes out as a choked sob, and immediately after, Gail crumbles into Holly's arms.
Always into Holly's arms because it is the two of them and this is how it is supposed to be.