”One time there was this lake. And it was right outside of town, and we used to go fishing in it, swimming in it, canoeing in it…”
Maura shifted restlessly in her sofa. Not because she was disinterested in the movie, although she had seen it enough times to know its lines by heart, and not because she was sitting uncomfortably. Oh no, this one piece of furniture had cost more than a full month of her Chief Medical Examiner salary. Granted, she often placed a higher emphasis on aesthetics than ergonomics – her shoe collection would attest to that – but as her job required her to stand for hours on end she had not been willing to compromise on comfort in this particular case.
She wasn’t uncomfortable, and she wasn’t bored. On the contrary; Maura shifted because she was getting eager and desperately trying to hold back the outburst that was currently bubbling through her in an almost tickling manner.
“…And then this one November a big flock of ducks came in and landed on that lake. And then the temperature dropped so fast that the lake just froze…"
Trying, but failing to focus all her attention on the movie, Maura switched to plan B: Distraction. She let her eyes drift from the powder-like snow making the dark night outside seem to glitter in the light from streetlamps, past the ridiculously tall Christmas tree in her living room and across each star shaped bulb of the distastefully multicoloured chain that was wrapped around it. Only a few years ago Maura would have regarded it with disdain, but now she preferred it to any expensive designer decoration because its lively imperfection reminded her of the Rizzolis who had put it into her home and let their lives entangle with hers. Well, one Rizzoli in particular. And just like that her distraction strategy failed, as her eyes automatically moved on to the woman in question who was currently sharing her sofa. The woman she was so desperately trying not to disturb in the middle of the movie.
It wasn’t working very well for her. Maura felt the words on the tip of her tongue now. A whole cascade of them; one sentence would inevitably be followed by innumerable if first she got started, and so she pressed her lips defiantly together. She tried to will her unruly limbs to still, forced her gaze to return to the television screen and stay there.
“…And the ducks, they flew off and took that lake with them.”
Yet out of the corner of her eyes she could still make out Jane’s form. Unlike Maura, her friend was entirely focused on the movie and not the least bit aware of Maura’s inner struggle. Possibly not at all aware of her presence, Maura mused. The thought, unlikely as it was, stung. No, it pricked; and the tiny, needle-like puncture mark it left behind was enough to break the seal Maura had imposed upon herself.
“That’s not actually possible.”
The objection flew from her lips and by now it was too late to stop the lecture that would follow, even if Jane would be immensely annoyed by the interruption. The verbal avalanche had been set into motion.
“Although ducks are designed to survive in an incredible range of climates, they are still warm-blooded animals and very susceptible to cold. Under the described conditions hypothermia would definitely kill them,” Maura continued, at once eager to see Jane’s reaction and a little afraid of it, and so she currently let her eyes dart between television screen and her own hands.
“Admittedly, ducks have been known to survive being frozen to a lake for as long as 48 hours. Their waterproof feathers provide incredible insulation from the cold, and their feet have capillaries with a lace-like structure that weave among one another, creating a counter-current heat-exchange mechanism. None the less a duck caught in the ice would be too weakened to fly off and certainly unable to carry anything with it.”
A deep chuckle from Jane caused Maura to finally look up. Fortunately, her best friend’s face held amusement rather than irritation. “It’s a tell-tale, Maur. Of course it’s not possible; that’s the whole point!”
Maura tilted her head and frowned, not quite able to fathom the purpose of telling an obviously incorrect story as if it were true. It would, technically, constitute a lie.
“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” Jane shook her head, probably at Maura’s obvious confusion, but any trace of exasperation was contradicted by the brunette’s wide grin and the calloused hand that reached over to squeeze Maura’s wrist.
Maura felt her face relax slightly, but not completely. “No, actually I don’t think I can… Do you mind it a lot?”
“Only when I haven’t had my morning coffee yet. Most of the time it’s actually kind of endearing.”
“Really?” A smile was gradually taking over Maura’s face. “Most people find it intimidating. I can’t count the number of dates I’ve sent running for the door with one of my speeches.”
“Well, being diagnosed with a chronic syndrome on a first date might seem overwhelming to some…” Jane teased as she leaned over to reach for the bowl of popcorn on the floor. Then she added with a shrug. “Clearly their loss, though.”
Maura’s smile remained in place while she allowed herself to gaze a little while longer at the one person who’d never been scared off by any of her odd quirks. It held significance; more so than she could ever have foreseen. And in a way she could never have predicted and had only recently and tentatively found a name for.
”You know,” Jane managed to say around a handful of popcorns. “If you switch the hair colours around, then Ruth and Idgie sort of remind me of us.”
At Jane’s words Maura instantly stiffened. But instead of jumping to hasty conclusions – after all, Dr. Maura Isles never guessed – she asked for clarification. “How so?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Jane cast a glance her way and found Maura dead serious. “Alright. Well, Idgie is all tough-acting and wouldn’t wear a dress to save her life, whereas Ruth is high femme and well-mannered, but there’s incredible strength beneath all of that.”
The convoluted compliment wasn’t lost on Maura and she smiled in spite of the uneasiness she had felt moments ago.
Until Jane added: “And then there’s their relationship, of course.”
“Their relationship…?” Even to her own ears Maura’s voice sounded as if it belonged to someone else.
“Well, yeah.” Jane frowned, seemingly unable to comprehend what Maura was getting at. “They’re best friends! Have each other’s back for richer and for poorer. Just like us.”
“Right, of course,” Maura nodded, feeling warmed by Jane’s certainty and more than a little silly for having misinterpreted the direction their conversation was headed. Yet, needing certainty of her own, she still had to ask: “Did you know that in the novel on which the movie is based Ruth and Idgie are lovers?” She tried to let the question sound like a piece of casual, everyday trivia; something that could be ascribed to her Google mouth and didn’t carry any deeper meaning what so ever.
Jane chuckled. “Maur, aside from the Harry Potter books, I read, like, one novel a year and it’s usually written by John Grisham. I didn’t even know Fried Green Tomatoes was based on a book.”
“Oh.” Relief flooded through Maura and was followed by the familiar rush of eagerness as she once again settled into her didactic mode. “Well, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café was written by Fannie Flagg and published in 1987, four years prior to the movie’s release. The novel is fairly long and includes many side plots and minor characters that never made their way into the somewhat simplified adaptation. Also, not willing to risk alienating a heterosexual audience, the producers chose to de-gay Ruth and Idgie’s relationship in effect turning it into a romantic friendship.”
“A romantic friendship?” Jane, clearly unfamiliar with the term, tilted her head in a gesture she had undoubtedly picked up from Maura.
Maura, however, deliberately left the question hanging and quickly moved on to less complicated ground. “This was met by fierce critique from members of the LGBT community who considered the producer’s choice an act of censorship. Although it’s a valid point, I personally prefer the movie to the novel, at least where Ruth and Idgie’s relationship is concerned.” She frowned as she quickly added: “Not that I’m homophobic. Not at all! I just feel that...” Her eyes drifted to Jane’s warm, dark-brown ones and the intensity of their brief connection once again spoke of something so confoundedly significant which, in spite of her vast vocabulary, left Maura dumbfounded. Something intrinsically linked to the way Maura related to Ruth and Idgie, and this made it impossible for her to properly finish her sentence. She would be giving too much away, yet not enough, and Jane, ever the detective, would pick up on the omittances and ask for clarifications that Maura was not yet ready to give. And so she gave an inaudible sigh of resignation and settled for something that could be considered a circular argument and certainly below her usual standards: “I simply like the way it’s played out in the movie.”
”Like I said, they’re like you and me, so of course you do,” Jane said with a smirk before once again digging into the popcorn bowl and returning her attention to the television screen.
Maura cursed her pale, Irish skin as she felt heat rise in her cheeks, but she none the less forced herself to remain outwardly calm and study her friend’s profile with almost clinical detachment in an attempt to figure out if Jane realised exactly how close to home her words had hit.
Jane’s entire frontalis muscle was relaxed, as was her corrugator muscle, and her zygmatic major was keeping her lips curled into a gentle smile. To sum up, she seemed to be at perfect ease. But was it due to her not having any idea what she’d just said – or to her being well-aware of and comfortable with it? Maura might have the IQ of a genius, but when it came to intuitive and emotional intelligence Jane surpassed her. So in theory it was possible she had long ago figured out what Maura was only beginning to grasp.
She squeezed her eyes shut recalling the moment a few weeks prior when realisation had first struck. Jane’s brother had tried to kiss her, and she had stopped him without giving it a second thought, yet Jane seemed convinced Maura was sacrificing her own happiness out of consideration for some friendship code of ethics. And so Maura had tried to set things straight: I like Tommy. I like him a lot, she had told Jane, but I love you. And I don’t want to do anything to compromise our friendship.
Even though the truth had been spoken by Maura’s own lips she had felt as if she were being let in on a secret in that instance. A secret that turned her familiar, ordered world upside down because it didn’t sit well with anything she had ever been taught. It could never be scientifically falsified because it didn’t fit into any discrete either/or categories.
From the beginning Maura had been more than willing to ignore the occasional glimpse of physical attraction she felt towards Tommy. What had taken her by surprise, as she had tried to explain this to Jane, was that she truly didn’t consider it a sacrifice. Maura Isles, who kept a shaving kit in her purse just in case she got lucky and happily lectured anyone on the healthy benefits of a good orgasm, was willing to give up on exactly that in exchange for what she had with Jane.
Once that realisation struck, it rooted, and in the following hours, days, weeks Maura had pondered over and over to what extent it held truth. She had reacted to Giovanni physically and attempted to seduce him, but if she had to be honest with herself his distasteful behaviour had been more of a relief than a disappointment. The project had been doomed from the moment Jane uttered her disdain for it. Maura had also reacted chemically to Ian and, out of habit more than anything, immediately resumed her physical relationship with him. But it had felt mechanical and, absurd as it may seem, somehow less intimate than what she shared with Jane right now. In this very moment, with Jane’s left hand curled around her wrist, a thumb occasionally caressing her, and with her own hand lightly stroking Jane’s sock-clad feet in her lap. She smiled at the ridiculous embroidered reindeers, then let her eyes drift to Jane’s face which was relaxed and open in a way few people ever got to see. But Maura did, and this, too, held significance.
Jane, apparently sensing Maura’s eyes upon her, looked briefly up and removed her hand from Maura’s wrist. Maura froze momentarily, fearing she had overstepped somehow – until Jane’s hand snuck around her waist instead and pulled her closer. Maura’s body automatically obeyed and her cheek was resting against Jane’s shoulder before her mind managed to catch up with the motion. When it finally did it continued along the same track it had followed since that moment in Jane’s kitchen a few weeks ago. Actually, it wasn’t one track, but several that generally merged into one cacophony of internal monologues overruling and contradicting each other.
However, right now, as she was leaning into Jane, soaking her warmth and inhaling her scent, a single voice drowned out all the others and made their objections seem utterly unimportant. How could choosing this be a sacrifice? the voice asked. Choosing someone this justice-seeking, caring and fiercely loyal; someone, no, the only one who loves and accepts you unconditionally, Google mouth and social awkwardness and all – how could that ever be a sacrifice?
Maura had almost forgotten about the movie it, but the sound of Ruth’s cracking voice pulled her mind and eyes back to it. ”She’s the best friend I’ve ever had, and I love her,” the brunette on screen declared in front of judge, lawyers, townspeople and the best friend in question. It was a scene that only existed in the movie adaptation and the revelation it had brought to Maura was one of the main reason she preferred the movie to the book. The solemn context of Ruth’s words made it a public declaration, almost akin to a wedding vow, asserting that Ruth and Idgie’s relationship was at once different from, yet just as significant as that of any married couple. The duo represented, in other words, an alternative. And seeing that alternative personified, even if it was only in a movie, somehow made it seem possible.
Maura blindly sought out the hand of the best friend she’d ever had and intertwined it with hers. Jane let her. She always let her, and she generally sought Maura’s closeness as much as Maura sought hers.
Perhaps what they had was already not that different from what Ruth and Idgie had, Maura mused. Perhaps the only real difference, the one final step to take, was the declaration. The vow. Not a sacrifice at all, but a promise. A promise which, if Maura had to be brutally honest with herself, she’d already made in her heart a while ago. She just needed the courage and the words to actually, one day, say it out loud.
From the surround speakers connected to the television the old narrator’s voice embarked on Maura’s least favourite part of the movie.
“This is one thing I loathe about the adaptation,” Maura admitted. “In the book Buddy is a grown man when Ruth dies, and consequently Ruth and Idgie spend many, many years together. The movie robs them of that. I suppose the producers cut their relationship short, because they wanted to suggest that the aging narrator, whom we know managed to marry and give birth to a son, is in fact Idgie. In the book, however, they’re two completely different people,” Maura explained.
In spite of Maura’s serious tone Jane burst out laughing, her body shaking lightly against Maura’s. “Good thing I’ve seen the movie before, Maur, or you’d have just ruined the ending!”
“Sorry,” Maura mumbled sheepishly, but her embarrassment faded as she felt a kiss to her temple. She squeezed Jane’s hand with her own in response
“You know,” Jane said, the frown audible in her voice. “That actually explains a lot. I always felt there was something amiss regarding the old lady. In the movie, that is.”
Maura turned her head slightly in order to catch a glimpse of her friend’s face. She could only make out her profile, though; cheek bones highlighted by the blue light emanating from the television screen and incredibly long lashes. It was, however, enough to determine that Jane was wearing her detective’s face.
“If she actually were Idgie, she wouldn’t have been feeling lonely at some retirement home,” Jane deducted. “I mean, where’s Buddy? He was Idgie’s son as much as Ruth’s! So of course the old lady and Idgie are two different people.”
Pointing out plot inconsistencies during movie nights would normally be Maura’s thing, and Jane usually chastised her for it. The implications of the fact that Jane was picking up yet another trait from Maura would in and of itself be enough to summon the metaphorical butterflies that now fluttered against Maura’s skin from the inside as if trying to break out. However, they had in fact been brought on by something else entirely. What caused Maura to lean more heavily into her friend and feel lighter at the same time was the completely casual and automatic way in which Jane had acknowledged Ruth, Idgie and Buddy’s somewhat alternative family. If Jane could do that, then perhaps… Perhaps Maura could one day find the courage to put everything she felt for her friend into words, even if it didn’t fit into a neat, premade category and they’d have to invent everything on their own. And perhaps that day might even come soon.
Maura had stilled against Jane’s warmth, but on the television screen Idgie was fidgeting. Her vest and the white shirt beneath it rustled along with unruly limbs.
”There are so many things I wanna say to you,” she told the love of her live who was about to leave it.
Not wanting to watch the parting about to unfold Maura turned her head into the crook of Jane’s neck. Dark brown curls provided a convenient, Jane-scented curtain shielding her eyes from the tragedy, but did not change the action taking place on the screen. The scripted conversation unfolded the way it always did and Maura had seen the movie enough times to provide the accompanying images on her own.
“Tell me a good tell-tale.” Ruth was struggling for her lasts breaths. “Tell me about the lake that used to be here.”
“Well that was just a lie.” Idgie had turned away, just like Maura, unable to bear the inevitable.
“I know that, fool. Tell me anyway.”
There was a sob, and for a moment Maura was unsure as to whether it came from expensive loudspeakers or her own lips. Before she reached a conclusion the curtain of hair shifted, parted and soon enclosed both Maura and Jane, as Jane pressed her forehead to Maura’s. Maura was about to whisper something apologetic about overactive lachrymal glands, but seeing Jane’s reassuring smile this close – it seemed to fill out her entire field of vision – instantly calmed her. Jane would sometimes tease Maura about her sentimental side that seemed so at odds with her image as Queen of the Dead, but there was nothing teasing about her words whatsoever when she gently stated:
“It’s fiction, Maur, and there’s more than one version. We can make our own.”
For the second time within a few weeks Maura felt she was being let in on a secret, and it brought the restlessness back into her body. Not because she was uncomfortable. Not because she was bored. No, she was giddy with the realisation that Jane was right: They could make their own alternative. Their own ending. Unable to remain still any longer Maura sat back and let her unruly fingers brush through hair the colour of Ruth’s, yet as untamed as Idgie’s.
On the television screen, the drama continued to unfold, but Maura was only looking at Jane, only sensing the curls between her finger, and Ruth and Idgie’s voices had been drowned out by an internal monologue. The conflicting tracks that had turned Maura’s past weeks into one of the most confusing times of her life now merged into one certain voice: Wither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.
The promise was spoken over and over in Maura’s mind, like a mantra. By a voice, that would continue to remain clear even after Maura’s hand and head had sunk and her eye-lids drifted shut.
* * * * *
The blonde is leaning against the window-sill, facing away from the room, but her eyes do not register the golden light greeting her from outside. Rather, they are looking inwards as she relays her tale, each sentence punctuated with a hint of a barely constrained sob.
”One time there was this lake... And it was right outside of town, and we used to go fishing in it, swimming in it, canoeing in it.”
The blonde rubs at her face with the back of her hand. Its feminine slenderness is contradicted by her abrupt movements and work-hardened fingertips.
“And then this one November a big flock of ducks came in and landed on that lake. And then the temperature dropped so fast that the lake just froze.”
The blonde bites her lip to stop it from trembling, but the tension is evident in her voice as she concludes her story:
”And the ducks, they flew off and took that lake with them. And now they say that lake is somewhere over in Carolina.”
“Carolina? You always said it was in Georgia.”
The voice is unusually hoarse, but the blonde recognises it instantly and spins around to greet its owner.
“God damn it to hell son of a bitch, you’re awake!”
Her voice sounds like that of a happy child even as it is breaking. Momentarily forgetting to keep her composure in check, head shaking and tears leaking, she rushes to the side of the hospital bed in which a somewhat older brunette is resting. She reached for her, but freezes midway as if becoming suddenly self-conscious, and the blonde’s outstretched hand is redirected into the pocket of her dark pants as she tries to strike a nonchalant pose.
The brunette on the bed, in spite of the fact that she is clearly only coming to it, merely smiles at the blonde’s reaction, clearly familiar with it.
“They should- they should know you’re awake. I... I better go fetch a doctor,” the blonde stutters as she lets her free hand run through her own unruly hair. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she promises before practically running for the door.
She keeps her promise and returns almost immediately with a doctor at her heels.
“Ms. Jamison, welcome back.”
The grey-haired man greets his patient with a sincere smile as he reaches for the brunette’s hand. Not to shake it, but to check her pulse. He nods to himself, seemingly satisfied as he jots something on a chart, before moving on to check the tubes and bandages that seem so foreign against the woman’s porcelain skin. Even in her current state anyone can tell she is beautiful in a soft, girly way that could not be cultivated but has to come from within.
The blonde has once again turned away. Possibly to give the brunette privacy, possibly to protect herself from the visible reminders of the graveness of the situation. The fact that the brunette is fully alert only moments after waking up is a small miracle, but not enough. The doctor has not yet spoken his verdict. At the sound of blankets being tucked back into place the blonde reluctantly turns back around.
“Ms. Jamison. Ms. Threadgoode.” The doctor nods at each of the women, then clears his throat. “As you are well aware, stomach cancer is a very serious and often fatal condition. But you have been incredibly lucky.”
The blonde visibly deflates as she lets out a breath she has clearly been holding for longer than advisable and she sways, just barely managing to grab a hold of the head of the bed before stumbling to the floor.
“You came here early, Ms. Jameson, and therefore we were able to remove the entire tumour. It did not seem to have spread, and so your chances of a full recovery are very good.”
The brunette, who has hitherto been perfectly stoic, blinks a sudden trail of tears away. “Thank you,” she says simply, but the look she gives the doctor speaks volumes.
He smiles kindly, not at all phased by his patient’s lack of words, then once again nods at both women. “I’ll give you some privacy. Ms. Jameson, you should get some rest. I’ll have the nurse check on you in an hour or so.” And with that he disappears leaving the two women to their own company.
Their eyes lock for a long moment, until the blonde suddenly seems to remember something. “That’s right!” She snaps her fingers and eagerly reaches for a bag on the floor. “Buddy asked me to give this to you.”
She hands a brown paper bag towards the brunette, then hesitates. “You want me to take it out for you?”
“Yes, please,” the brunette replies.
The blonde pours the bag’s content into her hand and holds it up in front of the brunette’s face, a smirk playing at her lips.
The brunette, on the other hand, frowns. “A ball?? Why did he want me to have that?” she asks incredulously.
“I was teaching him how to pitch and accidentally hit him really hard with this particular ball…”
One of the brunette’s eyebrows shoots up at that, and the blonde blushes a little, but continues none the less: “…anyway, he wanted me to tell you that, and I quote, he ‘didn’t duck and hardly cried’.”
A soft laughter echoes unexpectedly against the clinical walls and brings life back into the brunette’s features. Her eyes are sparkling as she hiccups: “I do believe you’ve been a bad influence on him, Idgie Threadgoode.”
The blonde’s blush deepens, but she can’t keep the smile off her face, and for the first time that morning she pulls a chair over to the bed and sits down.
The brunette, in the meantime, has grown serious. “Idgie,” she says quietly, and there is something most solemn about her voice. “In these past few days I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, and I’ve been thinking…” She looks up as if to make sure the blonde is following before continuing: “If I died-”
“But you’re not going to,” the blonde rapidly interjects. “The doctor said you’ll be fine. You’ll be just fine,” she reiterates, clearly uncomfortable with the direction their conversation is taking.
“I know,” the brunette says gently, “and believe me I plan to stick around you for many years to come. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The two women smile at each other for a while, until the brunette once again breaks the silence. “But if something did happen, something none of us expected, something that meant I couldn’t be with you and Buddy, then-”
“Let’s not talk about that now,” the blonde says. Her hands are fidgeting again. She pulls at her own hair, then her vest, then the edge of the blanket covering the brunette.
“Yes, Idgie, I need to talk about this right now. If I had to leave, then I want to make sure Buddy stays with you.” The brunette looks intensely into the blonde’s eyes. “I cannot bear the thought of any of the Bennets breaking up our family.”
“I would never allow that to happen,” the blonde says emphatically.
“Of course not, but still…” the brunette looks straight ahead, nodding slightly to indicate that what she is about to say is final. “I want us to hire a lawyer. A good one, I don’t care how much it’ll cost. I just want someone who can make out a binding legal document assuring that Buddy would go into your care.”
She returns her deep brown eyes to those of the women next to her, the women who is as much of a parent to Buddy as she herself is, even if they aren’t genetically related. “He’s our son,” she says in a near-whisper, but the emphasis on ‘our’ is unmistakable.
The words send a barely noticeable shudder through the blonde and for the second time that morning she momentarily forgets where to keep her hands and how to mould her face. It leaks, it trembles, and her hands lunge forward reaching for the porcelain one resting on top of the blankets. She grasps it, then quickly releases it again in order to wipe at her tears with her sleeves. Afterwards she doesn’t seem to know what to do with her hands. Her fingers grasp at nothing, and her eyes keep flickering towards the brunette’s hand, then her hair, her eyes and the smile that is growing on the pale face.
“Knowing you, I‘d say you’ve been pacing like crazy for hours. You should lie down with me for a while. Get some rest.”
“No, no, I’m fine!” the blonde instantly protests and her hands fly up to drive the point home. “Don’t mind me! You’re the one who needs to rest.”
The brunette’s purses her lips, possibly intentionally feigning a serious expression. “But I’m actually a little cold. It’s probably from the blood loss. I think I would sleep a lot better if I had you to keep me warm.”
The blonde is about to say something, then hesitates and blinks a few times. Whatever objection she has on her tongue seems to be rapidly draining from her. “Are you sure…?” she finally says. “I don’t want to hurt you. Tear out a tube or something.”
“You won’t,” the brunette assures her. “Just lie next to me on top of the covers.”
And for some reason, perhaps because she really is exhausted, the blonde obeys without further objections. She pulls off her shoes and carefully settles next to the brunette, making sure not to lie on any part of her obscured by the blanket.
The brunette smiles at her warmly, then uses the little strength she has left to lift her head and kiss the blonde’s forehead.
For the second time that day the blonde reaches out and hesitates mid-motion – then seemingly reaches a decision and lets her arm curl lightly around the brunette’s sleeping form. And just like that, her hands stop fidgeting. In fact, her entire body now seems settled; as settled as it’s ever going to be.