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Where Do We Begin Again

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You can break my

Heart

But you can’t break my

Soul.

 
~author unknown

It was a brisk Wednesday morning in Manhattan. The old snow was cleared and piled on the edges of the sidewalk nearest the street, looking more grimy as the days went by. The walkways were semi-cleared of foot traffic making it possible to walk in a straight line. It wasn’t rush hour anymore and most people were already sequestered at their workstations. But the streets of New York City seemed always busy at all hours of the day, no matter the weather. Vehicle horns blared as inpatient drivers swerved from lane to lane in a hurry to get to their destinations. Scattered pedestrians traveled in a zombie-like-state with their ear pods drowning out the street noise. Their bleak faces pointed downward while they concentrated on carefully maneuvering over the cracks on the sidewalks.

Like clock work, ‘Molly and Jen’s Street Eats’ was parked half-block around the corner from the Safford building, and Kat made a beeline towards the food truck just like she had done often for the past four years. A small crowd was already lined up for the usual 10 a.m. hour, as the female owners lifted the metal rolling awning and opened up for business. “Good morning good people,” the thinner woman greeted the crowd, while her blue-haired partner wrote out the day’s menu on the outside hanging chalkboard.

Kat approached the food truck with a bounce in her step and stopped at the back of the line. She recognized a few faces from frequently seeing them in the lobby of her former employer, or just as food truck regulars. However, she didn’t recognize anyone she was acquainted with in particular.

Kat loved to people-watch and the adjoining businesses nearby provided a lot of foot traffic as entertainment while she waited her turn in line. The tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeated the scene and surrounded her, awakening her senses.

The line started to move rather quickly, as most people seemed to be ordering just coffee and pastries to go. Kat finally made it to the window, “Two Americanos with a shot of cream, please.” Molly ran the window and her wife prepared drinks.

“Hi Kat! Haven’t seen ya in a good while. How’s it going?”

Kat smiled widely at the always jovial woman. “It’s great Molly,” Kat fibbed. “Keeping busy with work and stuff.”

“We saw the magazine is going digital. That’s dope. That’ll keep you especially busy, right?” Apparently the ladies had not kept up with Kat’s latest job escapades nor heard about her bar podcast. So Kat played along, glancing down.

“Yes...yes, I’m keeping very deep in the weeds. I can barely get out for coffee these days.” Kat lifted her eyes back up from viewing the counter and Molly shared a chuckle with her.

“Well then, we are ecstatic and honored you stopped by.”

“Awesome!” Kat swiped her credit card on the reader and took the recycled cup holder from Jen.

“Don’t be a stranger,” the shyer Jen called out as Kat walked away.

“Thanks guys. It’s great seeing you both. Have a swell day,” Kat said with a wave, pivoting and walking left towards the small table off to the side. As she gathered sugar packets and stir sticks to go, she heard her name called out by a passerby.

“Kat?”

A broad smile washed across her face as she immediately recognized the figure standing before her. “Hi Adena, it’s good see you. Long time no see,” Kat nervously said, fidgeting with her wallet.

In reflex, Adena extended her hand up and touched Kat’s shoulder, lingering there for a good ten seconds. “Is so good to see you too, Kat.” She flashed a smile that revealed her pearly whites and it made Kat’s heart skip a beat, yet feel melancholy at the same time.

Adena lowered her hand and a muffled thump diverted both women’s eyes downward. “Oops,” Kat had dropped her wallet on the concrete floor. She immediately scooped it up with bent knees, springing back up quickly and throwing the billfold inside her small backpack purse. She let out a nervous giggle and refocused her attention back on Adena.

Adena gave her a once-over noticing Kat was wearing sneakers and didn’t tower over her as much. She admired her form-fitting blue jeans and bomber jacket. Adena briefly held her gaze down to the cups in Kat’s hands. “What brings you back here? Visiting Jane and Sutton I assume?”

The Persian’s voice was soft and accented like Kat always remembered. Her eyes emotionally expressive and full of hope. Adena was carrying a bag marked ‘BLICK Art Materials’, so Kat concluded she had been out shopping. She had a long navy puffer coat on, opened in the front. She complimented the look with a form fitting tan V- neck sweater and orange-speckled hijab. Adena grinned and knew Kat always admired her fashion sense, and the feeling was mutual.

Before responding, Kat dropped her eyes down and stared at the gold necklace with the large chocolate opal stone that laid flush against Adena’s chest. She recalled seeing it in the artist’s leather jewelry box when they lived together.

“Uhem,” Adena cleared her throat causing Kat to refocus her attention and answer her question.

“Um...no...but actually...yes.” Kat’s eyes flickered back up to meet Adena’s. “I’m first dropping off some electronics I borrowed from Alex, plus paying him with coffee. After, Sutton and I are grabbing a quick lunch.” Kat pushed her red fleece scarf around her neck and continued, “Jane’s tide up in a staff lunch-thingy. She’s got several staff under her now, you know.” She hated how her voice cracked nervously.

Adena pressed her lips together then nodded in response, stepping backwards a couple of feet as Kat separated herself from the condiments table. Other food truck patrons were now approaching it.

“Mind if I walk you back to Scarlet?” Adena pointed ahead. “I had to step out to BLICK’S for some photo shoot props.

“Not at all,” Kat accepted and began moving forward with Adena close to her side. “That must have been a real hardship,” Kat pointing at the large paper bag.

“How so?” Adena drew her brows in question.

Kat chuckled, “I’m just teasing you. I know how much you love shopping in that store. You tend to get lost in there admiring all the art supplies.”

“Ayee, yes,” Adena giggled. Kat grinned and the two became quiet, meandering through the small crowd on the sidewalk. They separated briefly to dodge a homeless woman blocking the path as she pushed a grocery cart full of her belongings.

As they came back together Kat licked her lips asking, “How have - -“. But she abruptly stopped mid-sentence as Adena also asked in unison...”

“- - How are you?”

The two women awkwardly chuckled and Kat answered, “I’m good...yes. And you?”

Adena pushed her purse strap further up her shoulder then placed a hand on her right hip, drawing Kat’s focus down to her waist. Kat noticed the shorter woman had on tight fitting gray wool pants and a thick maroon leather belt with a heart-shaped buckle. She also wore her favorite boots. The same boots Kat had many times tugged off frantically to undress the artist in another life. She lazily stared at Adena’s hips as they swayed rhythmically while she walked. “I’m good. Scarlet’s keeping me real busy these days.” Kat followed Adena’s hand as she moved it up to lay on her chest. “The in-house photographer’s job is a busy one,” Adena sweetly smiled. “I’m sure Sutton has mentioned to you...we work together a lot these days?” Adena cocked her head to the side and watched as Kat rubbed her nose with the back of her free hand. She shuffled her feet along the pavement, nodding.

“Ah...yes, she has mentioned it once or twice.”

Adena returned a genuine smile liking that her name was a subject of conversation between Kat and Sutton. “That’s good to know.”

The short half-block walk to the Safford building had been emotionally uncomfortable for the two, to say the least. But they managed to keep to small talk and safe topics. It had been two months since their last communication. Their relationship had been strained after The Belle’s first podcast, where Kat interviewed Eva Rhodes. Adena had tuned in the night of the broadcast and was very confused by what she heard. After sleeping on it a couple of days, she just couldn’t let it go. So, two evenings later she texted Kat enquiring about the interview and Kat’s “flirtatious tone,” as Adena put it. Kat found herself quickly dialing Adena’s cellphone wanting to justify herself in a lengthy conversation:

“Allo, this is Adena.”

“Hey? Why are you answering so business-like?”

The phone call was very cumbersome but Kat pushed through explaining the situation, making jokes, and trying to turn it into a positive:

Adena listened but pointed out, “This woman is toxic, Kat. She had you fired from Scarlet for exposing her father’s crooked ways. She supports conversion therapy and defends hardline immigration. What has gotten into you? This is so out of character for you.”

“Wha- -?” In turn, Kat had become very defensive on the phone, protecting her decision to interview Eva...but leaving out the part about her sudden unexplained sexual attraction to the conservative right-winger. “Yes Adena, we have very different views. But I feel I’m gonna learn from her.”

“Learn what, Kat? That it’s okay to keep children in cages? That the rights of gun owners is more important than the safety of our schools and citizens? That the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have the same rights and privileges?”

The silence on the receiver was a few seconds long but felt like an hour. In the end Kat simple concluded, “You just don’t understand this, Adena. Once you get to know her, Eva is different. I’m giving her a chance.”

Moments later the call ended with both parties upset:

“I don’t know who you are anymore, Kat!”

“Adena, why are you being so hard-headed! Shit!”

“You tell me what we had was and is still special, and then ignore me? Not even a text for weeks. And now this? Goodbye. Kat.”

“Fuck, you just don’t get it!” Kat saw the call disconnect and threw her phone down on her bed, fuming with anger towards Adena.

After the incidence, the weeks passed and Adena texted Kat a couple more times on the subject, including emphasizing how hurt she felt when she overheard Sutton and Jane talking about Kat’s ‘regular bar customer’ being RJ’s daughter, and how they feared Kat was having more than a platonic relationship with her:

“Yeah, it’s like our Kat has been abducted by aliens and replaced by an impostor,” Sutton noted to Jane in the office break room, quickly changing the subject when the photographer walked in to use the microwave.

“Hello ladies,” Adena bashfully saluted.

From that moment on Adena felt that Kat’s friends started avoiding her at work. Maybe she was just being paranoid, she thought, but maybe it was because they knew more about this Eva thing than they let on. Or maybe because they approved, or felt guilty pretending it was okay. Either way, Adena felt excluded from their friend-circle. And, the two always seemed to scurry away whenever Adena walked near them.

Once again, on a couple of consecutive weekends, Adena made an honest effort and reached out asking Kat to meet up for coffee. But Kat always responded with excuses and defended the wretched red-headed woman. She eventually left Adena’s text messages on read. And, although it was understood the exe’s were free to date whomever they wanted, Adena still was offended and felt betrayed by Kat’s actions. That was the last thing she messaged Kat, never to hear from her again, until today’s accidental street meeting.

=====
“So how did it feel meeting Alex in the Safford lobby again?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah? What kinda answer is that...Earth to Kat!” The blonde lifted her left hand up and snapped her fingers an inch from Kat’s face.

Kat grunted loudly in complaint, “Sutton that’s really annoying,” and shoved her left hand back.

“What’s gotten into you? You’re all outta sorts.”

Kat tried to change the subject, “Shouldn’t we be talking about you and Richard instead?”

Sutton shook her head quickly, “Nope, I’m done talking and crying now. Answer my question. What the hell is up with YOU?”

Kat leaned back into her seat and sighed, “Shit, sorry. It’s something that happened earlier. I bumped into Adena this morning by ‘Street Eats’ and she walked me to Safford.”

“Dammit, spill it!” Sutton pointed her index finger at Kat, scooting her chair up until her diaphragm was pressing into the tall table. She took her straw from her soda into her mouth and prepared to listen intently.

Kat frowned and rolled her eyes. “Not much to spill. We just made small talk.” She reached for her cup and took a big gulp of water, wiped her upper lip with a napkin and continued, “But, she wants to do lunch this coming Sunday.”

“Hmm, is she gonna cook that delicious Persian food? Lucky duck. Bet you miss it.”

“No, we’re meeting at Lando’s.”

“Too bad. Perhaps you can go back to her place and hook up afterwards. Have passionate, messy sex.” Sutton slapped the table with both palms and waggled her brows at her unamused friend.

“Jee-suss, I shouldn’t have told you shit. Your mind’s always in the gutter. That’s not gonna happen.”

The blonde pushed her foot into Kat’s under the table, “Come on. You know you want it,” she giggled and Kat gave her a dirty side glare. “Ok, but seriously, would you pass it up if she offered?” Sutton knew the real answer to this question. She also knew Kat would always deny it, keeping very guarded at anything to do with Adena, commitment, and love. Kat had suffered great heartache when Adena broke up with her in Paris, and nothing could get her past that state of mind, not even working with the photographer, becoming friends again, dancing together at Sutton’s wedding, and ultimately losing her job for Adena’s honor. Jane and Sutton tried talking Kat through it all, until they were blue in the face. But Kat would not relent. She was emotionally stagnant. Apparently, the breakup was the hardest thing Kat had ever experienced in her young life.

“That’s not the damn point, Sutton!” Kat slapped her forehead as the words spilled out.

“Shhh! Lower your voice tiger. I’m only kidding. Well half-kidding. Anyhoo, what do you think you guys are going to talk about at this lunch?”

Kat let out another sigh, but this time a much slower one. “Geez, I don’t know. But hopefully this time we don’t get into a big fight over my dating choices.”

=====
Kat placed both hands on her lap under the table, trying to hide her shaking, clammy hands. Her hair was down and her loose curls jumped as she vigorously bounced a nervous foot on the parquet floor. Her pulse quickened and she wiped both palms on her skinny jeans in a forward swoop, as she saw her friend fast approaching the table.

“Hello.” Kat stood up and the two women hugged loosely, both taking a seat at opposite ends of the corner table.

“Hi Kat.” Adena set her purse down on the empty chair next to her. She looked lovely as ever and smelled of lilacs. “I haven’t been here since this eatery changed owners. Looks nice and inviting inside, no?”

“Yes, the fresh paint, murals, greenery...all good. All good.” Kat nodded and whipped her head sideways admiring the new digs. “Wonderful.” She hated how she felt, jittery and awkward, but she took a deep breath and pushed on facing her lunch mate again. “Wanna look at the menu and order right away?” Kat’s long fingers fidgeted with a paper menu as she waited for a response.

The waitress stopped by with two glasses of water before there was a decision made. “Hi ladies. Welcome to Lando’s, I’m Stella. When you’re ready please order at the counter and I’ll deliver your meals to the table. Also let me know if you’d like something else to drink, besides H2O. And, so ya know,” the woman flipped the menu that laid before Adena, “...today we have our home brewed peach flavored tea and an IPA on sale.”

Kat gave the girl a tight lip smile, “Cool. Thanks, water is good for me.”

“I’m fine with water, too. Thank you.”

The waitress walked away and the girls looked back down at each other.

Adena reached across and lightly grazed Kat’s hand with her fingers, sending shivers down her spine. “Kat, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. It’s been too long.”

Kat noticed Adena had on a blue bra underneath her blouse, from the lacy strap that peaked out of her Peter Pan collar. “No problem, Adena. We are friends still, right?”

Adena opened her mouth and closed it again, considering Kat’s question. “Yes of course silly, still friends.” She cocked her head to one side and added, “Why wouldn’t we be?” Kat simply smiled and gave her a small shrug.

The girls ordered their meals and spent a pleasant hour talking about work and some extracurricular activities. Adena announced she was working on a project for a gallery that commissioned her services, and Kat was happy to be waiting to hear back on a full-time job opportunity with a media consulting firm. If she got the offer it would entail traveling 50% of the time to their west coast headquarters.

After a shared dessert, Adena insisted they swing by her place that was a short walk from the restaurant. She wanted to show off some photographs she recently took. Kat happily conceded.

=====
Once inside the small Brooklyn studio apartment, Kat slipped off her Van’s and made herself comfortable on the plush velvet couch. “You want some tea or water? I also have some fresh strawberries I picked up from the farmer’s market yesterday,” Adena offered, while unraveling her hijab in front of a full-length mirror.

Kat looked up and locked eyes with her reflection in the mirror. “Oh gosh no, I’m stuffed from lunch. But thanks.” She held her belly and noticed the pile of photographs on Adena’s coffee table. “Are these the prints you mentioned?”

The artist strolled over and joined Kat on the opposite end of the couch. “Yes. These are samples of what I’m putting together for the gallery.” Kat leaned forward to take the prints from Adena’s hands and their fingers gently dusted, sending electricity up Kat’s spine this time.

Kat briefly concentrated on Adena’s slender fingers remembering what they could do. “The pictures are very nice. Boy, you have such a good eye for beauty, Adena.”

Adena gave Kat a side smirk and slowly nodded. “Yes I do. In more ways than one,” she added in a coquettish tone.”

Kat lifted her eyes up and gave the artist a light smile, ignoring the implications behind her response. “Yep, these are great.” She laid the photos back down and stroked under her chin, crossing her arms and legs when she finished.

The room was quiet now as both women remained silent and stared down at the floor. Adena finally broke the tension by inhaling deeply and letting the air out slowly through her nose, mustering up her courage to speak again. “Kat, are you done with that mess for good?”

Kat darted her eyes up and towards Adena, “Huh?” She cocked her head asking for clarification, “What...mess?”

Adena combed her fingers through her hair twice and faced Kat before continuing, fidgeting with her hands now back on her lap. “Yes Kat, I’m bringing it up again. Are you done seeing...her?”

Kat uncrossed her arms and slapped her knees grimacing, “Oh god, not again. Why does it bother you so much?” Kat raised the bar in the argument with a loud, “Let. It. Go. Please!” She grabbed a large red cushion on the couch and hugged it tightly against her stomach.

Adena extended her arm back and pointed as if there was another person in the room.” You dating that woman was...was disrespectful to our... friendship!”

“Oh geez!” Kat’s eyes were guarded, not wanting to give out any more information about her brief fling with RJ’s complicated daughter.

Adena slid up closer to Kat until their knees touched, placing both of her shaking hands over Kat’s. “Why won’t you ever talk to me about this, Kat? About us? This is important.”

Kat moved her arms back, releasing Adena’s hands, and briefly held her own head with both hands, rubbing her temples, feeling nauseas. “Adena first, Eva and I weren’t dating, per se. And second, I didn’t think about ‘us’ when I saw her.” Kat made quotation mark references and then pointed her finger back and forth between Adena and her. “We just talked and...aargh! Why do I even need to justify it?” Kat was mad now. She sat back as close to the arm rest as possible to avoid touching the artist again.

“You just talked to her and what...screwed? Is that what it only was to you, lust? I thought you had better taste and moral values and beliefs.”

“It’s what people do, Adena!” Kat raised her voice again in anger and frustration.

“Well just so you know, I don’t just want that, too. To be just your...fuck friend!” Adena was not the type to curse, but Kat’s attitude was pushing her buttons. The look on her face was of annoyance and disappointment, and this time she wasn’t going to drop this thing.

Kat gave Adena a look of concern then looked down at her own trembling hands while she spoke again, making sure she breathed deeply and calmed her voice. “I never said you were that. You are my friend and occasional sounding board.”

Adena huffed at those last words. “Occasional sounding board?” Kat looked back towards her and rolled her eyes, as Adena lectured her, jabbing her index finger into her own thigh to emphasize her points. “Nor should YOU expect ME to just continue to always be available when YOU decide YOU need a sympathetic ear, or word of advice, ignoring ME when it’s not convenient for YOU.” Adena frowned and her bloodshot eyes were filled with hurt. She did not hide how very upset she was with this subject. “I deserve better than that, Kat,” she pled.

“Oh so, this isn’t just about Eva Rhodes?” Kat threw the pillow down, uncrossed her legs, and sat up on the edge of the couch trying to calm her voice with some slow, deep breaths. “I’m not asking you to just be that, either. Adena, I would NEVER use you like that.”

“Mmppff,” Adena let out a small sarcastic groan and crossed her arms causing Kat to lose her cool again.

“What the hell, Adena! I just don’t know what you want from me!”

“I need and want more! Please, why can’t you just see that? I know you feel the same way about us as I do.” Adena’s tone became more desperate and she tried to grab Kat’s hands, but Kat pushed her away.

“Shit, I shouldn’t have agreed to come here.” Kat knew this was a mistake and this wouldn’t end well. As her stomach churned angrily, she tried to look away but Adena cupped her face before she could deflect the motions.

“Why because now you have to answer me and have a real heart-to-heart conversation?” Adena searched deep inside Kat’s eyes for some kind of message, a sign that she was finally breaking through Kat’s hard shell, finally getting somewhere with her pleading.

Kat’s eyes were bloodshot too and she shook her head, forcing Adena’s hand back down. “Look, I’m leaving. It’s best we don’t talk anymore today.” She slipped her shoes back on and quickly stood up, moving towards the front door.

But Adena got up and quickly blocked her path. “Before you go, I need to know something. I want you to tell me one thing.” Adena pushed Kat back a step, holding her in place by her shoulders.

“Adena, please let me go. I might say something I regret.” Kat had a look in her eyes that was hard to decipher.

“No, not until you answer!” Adena shouted, a lone tear escaping from the corner of her eye. She used her shoulder to wipe at her face, regaining some composure before asking, “Have you ever stopped loving me, Kat?” Her voice was low now and soft, honest but firm.

Kat’s eyes softened as she let the intensity of the question sink in. She relaxed her body and stared deeply into dark eyes while the words hung between them. Heat prickled through her skin as Adena’s gaze became too much to handle, and her pulse quickened. She gently shook her head, “Adena...” and something clicked deep inside her. She swore her arms had a mind of their own as she watched them encircle the petite woman’s frame for a tight embrace. Adena didn’t flinch, she felt paralyzed, and the inevitable happened. Kat inched her head forward and crashed their lips together for a bruising kiss.

Adena melted into Kat’s arms, tugging Kat impossibly close by the sleeves of her shirt, and relished in the moment. She could feel Kat’s hips slowly grinding against hers. She readjusted her hands up to the nape of Kat’s neck and released an uncontrollable moan into her mouth. Their wet lips glided together with a hunger that couldn’t be satiated.

“Mmmph,” Kat reciprocated the desire with a groan, swiping her tongue inside Adena’s opened mouth, enjoying her shared body heat and soft curves. The thoughts of what she wanted to do to Adena ran wild in her mind, and she regretted wearing such tight jeans today.

But suddenly Adena found the willpower to pull her face off of Kat’s, shifting to lay her head onto her chest instead. She could feel Kat’s heart thumping fast against her ribcage, as their chests expanded and contracted unevenly.

Kat kept her eyes closed and gently scratched at Adena’s back basking in the intimate exchange. She pressed her nose on top of the smaller woman’s head and inhaled deeply, “Mmm, your shampoo smells so good.” She exhaled softly adding, “I want you so bad,” hoping for more.

Except for a soft grunt, Adena remained quiet. Emotionally exhausted, she nuzzled her face against Kat as she tried to calm down. The moment was eventually interrupted when Kat felt a dampness on the front of her blouse, followed by the sound of Adena’s sobs that she couldn’t contain any longer.

Kat lifted her right hand and tangled it in Adena’s soft, dark hair. “Hey, it’s okay baby. It’s okay. Perhaps we should seek couple’s counseling to figure this thing out.”