Kalinda sighed and tapped her fingers against her steering wheel unthinkingly in rhythm with whatever summer Top 40 song was playing on the radio. She’d turned it on hoping for a traffic report, but had gotten weather instead. It was July in Chicago. It was hot. It was going to continue to be hot whether or not the fact that it was still hot was reported at the top of every hour. And it didn’t matter how hot it was specifically. Anything over 85 was unbearable and people were literally dying from this latest heat wave. Of course, it was also the 4th of July. Traffic downtown was even worse that it normally was, Kalinda didn’t really need a radio DJ to confirm that for her, either. She’d tuned it all out when the music started. She was tired and irritable. She just wanted to go home, maybe have a drink and go to bed. The revelry was wearing on her and she’d had more than her fair share.
She was suddenly jarred out of her personal pity party by a lower quality version of a competing pop song that she couldn’t identify if her life depended on it – this one emanating from her cell phone. She could very clearly recall the feeling of confusion and subsequent panic that had washed over her when she’d realized that all of her ringtones had been changed. Alicia had offered her a sympathetic yet somewhat concerned smile.
“Grace does that,” she’d explained, her expression still wary. “I guess she’s trying to bond with you.”
Kalinda had taken a moment to let herself calm down before replying. ‘Tell your hell spawn not to touch my things,’ was not and never would be an appropriate response, no matter how automatic it seemed. While she was beyond grateful that she’d never had an ugly run-in with either of Alicia’s kids, she also wasn’t, nor was she planning on becoming, familiar with the loss of control over her personal items or any part of her privacy. Fortunately, Alicia, in her ever perceptive way seemed to realize that many of Kalinda’s in the moment reactions to unexpected events had just as much if not more to do with things that had happened to her in the past than any current circumstance.
“I’ll talk to her,” she’d said, putting a reassuring arm around her for emphasis.
“It’s fine,” Kalinda had managed, sure even as she spoke that her face wasn’t cooperating.
“Okay,” Alicia had said simply, kissing the top of her head. “I’m still going to talk to her, though.”
In the end, Kalinda had changed everything back to its default with the exception of Alicia’s cell phone. On some level she had hoped that it would act as a reminder that her inability to control every little aspect of her life wasn’t the end of the world. Whether or not it actually served such a purpose was a different matter entirely.
“Hey,” Kalinda answered, putting an end to one of the songs with the press of a button and turning down the radio with another.
“Where are you?” There was playfulness in Alicia’s voice. She was up to something. Between the two of them, it wasn’t usually Alicia that did the scheming. And, when she was honest with herself, Kalinda was surprised to hear from her at all. Things had been a little tense between them lately.
Kalinda rarely had intimate relationships that lasted more than 6 months; even on the rare occasion that it was a relationship she really wanted to continue. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, she’d been once again overcome with all the fears and doubts she’d had at the beginning of their relationship. It took all of the strength she had to spare to fight against her renewed instinct to flee…and the distraction hadn’t gone unnoticed. It wasn’t that she wanted to keep what she was feeling from Alicia, she just didn’t know how to put it into words – especially without making her feel inadequate somehow, which wasn’t fair – she hadn’t done anything wrong. So, the tension had just continued to build.
“I’m stuck in traffic downtown.”
“Enjoying the festivities?” Alicia asked, sounding bemused.
“Hardly. Will suggested that with everything going on because of the holiday it might be easier to get somewhere with the investigation of the police brutality claims in the NATO Summit protestors’ case.”
“I’m guessing that didn’t pan out.”
“Not really, no.”
“It’s sweet how you humor him,” Alicia said, sounding genuinely thoughtful. “But you really ought to remind him that you’re better at your job than he is.” Kalinda smiled to herself.
“Let him have his fun. As long as Diane continues to agree with you about who does my job best, I have nothing to worry about. Besides, Will promised me holiday pay with the single stipulation that if any of it had to be used as bail money, our deal is off.” Alicia laughed.
“Well, at least he knows what he’s getting into with you. … So, where are you going when you get out of that traffic?”
“I was planning on heading home.”
“Could I persuade you to come to my place instead?”
“Yes.” The invite was just as unexpected as it was welcome and Kalinda didn't have it in her to play coy. Alicia laughed again, clearly pleased about having gotten her way so easily.
“Excellent. When you get here, I’ll be on the roof.”
“Oh God,” Kalinda exclaimed, feigning exasperation. “You’re not going to jump, are you? That’s such a mess and so much paperwork.”
“Nothing like that,” Alicia assured her and Kalinda could hear her smile in her voice. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
Alicia sat down and opened a bottle of wine, pouring it into the two glasses on the small table between the chairs she had set up on the roof. She knew that even with the traffic, Kalinda would be there soon. It seemed like a lifetime had passed since the last time she’d felt this anxious about seeing her girlfriend.
The idea to invite her over had been fairly spontaneous. Caught up with work for once and the kids out with friends, she had spent the majority of the day milling around her home trying not to think about when her relationship with Kalinda had started to regress. It had been an exercise in futility. She was mindlessly flipping through the television channels when she’d come across an advertisement for the evening’s fireworks display in Grant Park. The last time there had been a fireworks display in Grant Park was New Years – when they’d had their first kiss. So much had happened since then – so many ups and downs – but none of it Alicia would trade for anything in the world.
Kalinda was having more than a bad day or even a bad week. Something was seriously upsetting her and from her own observations Alicia had determined that everything she’d done to try to figure out what was wrong or to try to make her feel better had only made it worse. But she wasn’t going to let it come between them without a fight. It was time to lay all the cards on the table and hope for the best.
Alicia’s reflections were interrupted by the sound of the door to the roof opening.
“This is nice,” Kalinda said, a warm if somewhat uncertain smile on her pretty face as she joined her.
“I’m glad you could come. … I’ve missed you.” That wasn’t what Alicia wanted to say. Kalinda’s smile faltered.
“You’ve been distant lately.” She really hadn’t wanted to say that. It never failed to amaze Alicia that despite the ease with which she was able to consistently prepare for and successfully deliver in court, she was so easily disarmed by her feelings for Kalinda.
“I’m sorry,” Kalinda said softly, avoiding eye contact the way she always did on the rare occasions they discussed feelings. “I can’t believe I’m saying this… it’s simultaneously ridiculous and obvious, but it’s not you, it’s me.”
“Do you care about me, Kalinda?” Alicia asked the question before her good sense had the chance to stop her and she felt a pang of guilt over the relief that washed over her as raw distress contorted Kalinda’s features seemingly beyond her control.
“Of course I do. You know I do.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
“Then why is it so hard for you to understand that when there’s something hurting you and you can’t talk to me about it for whatever reason, it’s not just about you anymore, it’s about us.” Kalinda let out a slow resigned breath.
“Look at me,” Alicia said softly. At least this part could still go according to plan. After a long moment Kalinda managed to look up at her and Alicia reached out to squeeze her hand.
“I love you, Kalinda,” Alicia said, her voice filled with determined conviction.
Kalinda’s visceral reaction was exactly what she expected: her eyes widened, she stopped breathing and she tried to pull away. Her internal struggle was obvious and it was painful to watch.
“I don’t want you to say anything. Please, just listen.” Kalinda nodded slowly.
“I’ve known for some time that what I feel for you is love. I didn’t say anything about it because I didn’t want to upset you. You know, it’s almost unbearably ironic -- knowing that the best thing I can offer you to try to make you feel more secure would have the exact opposite effect. But this isn’t a revelation. I love you today; I loved you yesterday and last week. The only difference is that I have to say it and you need to hear it. It’s vital to our relationship. I love you and it’s out there now, for better or worse as the case may be.” Kalinda was silent for a long time. Finally, as the fireworks show began in the distant sky, she started to speak.
“I have a hard time conceiving of anything on a long term basis, Alicia. I renegotiate my salary and benefits twice a year just because I can, I lease my apartment on a month to month basis…you get the idea. As soon as I start to feel comfortable with anything my instinct is to do whatever it takes to prevent attachment and dependency.” Kalinda sighed.
“I check my phone when you tell me you’re going to call. I buy things at the grocery store that I don’t even know what to do with because I know you like them. I…I miss you when you’re not there. It’s wonderful but it’s also terrifying.” Kalinda frowned and bit her lip.
Alicia ached to touch her face, to hold her close, anything to reassure her, but what she was saying was too important to interrupt. This was Kalinda telling her she loved her, too. Instead she focused her willpower inwardly, against the tears threatening to form in her eyes, and waited patiently for her to continue.
“The things I don’t talk to you about – a lot of it is because it’s taken so much for me not to let the past define me anymore. And I’m still kind of messed up; I always will be. Somehow you’ve managed to make me feel like I’m going to be alright despite all of that… and I want to be with you – long term – more than I’ve ever wanted anything. My head just hasn’t caught up with my heart. It’s new territory and the dissonance is deafening. I’m working on it, I just…I don’t want us to be as messed up as I am. Does that make any sense?”
“Of course it does,” Alicia said softly. “It makes a lot of sense. But as long as we’re being completely honest, I’ve got to tell you that it doesn’t help with the feeling that I should be doing something to help you through this. I love you for who you are, not who you think you need to be to make me happy.”
Kalinda closed her eyes and drew a shaky breath. Successfully putting her feelings into words and sharing them made Alicia feel as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, but trying to gauge Kalinda’s reactions was almost equally as nerve wracking as keeping it all bottled up inside.
“If there was something specific you could do for me, I would tell you,” Kalinda said after a brief hesitation and it was clear that this was something she’d given thought to.
“I promise I would. Right now I just need…” Kalinda swallowed hard and seemed to be choosing her words carefully. “I just need to know that you won’t give up on me.”
There was a painful heaviness in Alicia's heart again. Kalinda could be so frustrating, maddeningly so. At times her insecurities made it seem like she’d never truly be able to have a healthy intimate relationship with anyone, but it was moments like this – when she allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to admit she needed reassurance – that gave Alicia hope.
“Despite what Hollywood will tell you, Kalinda, love doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry. But it does mean knowing when you have something worth fighting for.” Alicia gently lifted Kalinda’s chin and looked deeply into her emotion filled eyes. “I will not give up on you.”
Kalinda drew a breath as if she was going to say something, but then just frowned and looked away. Alicia cupped her face in both of her hands for several seconds before kissing her. It was brief but tender and perfect for the moment. When they broke apart Kalinda looked drained but content and Alicia was struck by just how long it had been since she’d seen her girlfriend really relax. As the fireworks finale began they both automatically refocused their attention on the sky.
“Did you plan this?” Kalinda asked, motioning towards the sky as she sat back in her chair taking a sip of her wine.
“Yes,” Alicia replied without hesitation. “It’s a little thing I’ve been working on since 1776.”
“You look good for your age,” Kalinda scoffed, a brilliant, genuine smile gracing her lips. “I just meant that you seem to have a thing for fireworks.”
“It would be more accurate to say I have a thing for fireworks with you…interpret that as you will.” Kalinda raised an eyebrow before laughing out loud. She took Alicia's hand into her own, smiling mischievously as she looked back up at the sky.
Foregoing the fireworks, Alicia watched the light play on Kalinda’s face. It was so unlikely – everything they had – but they were getting better at getting through the difficulties. Kalinda seemed to feel Alicia staring at her and glanced at her innocently. Alicia chuckled, instinctively wanting to tell her again just how much she loved her. However, knowing better than to press the issue, she chose instead to kiss Kalinda’s fingers before turning to watch the end of the fireworks grateful for everything she had, exactly as it was.