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Of course I love you

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“Renée, elbow up just a bit higher, dear. Perfect. Edward, loosen your hold a touch,” Ada called out over the music as the students of her adult ballroom class waltzed across the hardwood floor.

The classroom door on her right opened, but she ignored it in favor of assessing her students until her receptionist/former dance teacher, Gwen, sidled up next to her with a note.
Hospital on phone. They wouldn’t say why.

With no further information given, Ada's anxiety instantly peaked as worst case scenarios ran through her mind. Crumpling the note in her hand, Ada turned to Gwen.

"Could you finish up this class for me? Once this song is over, all you need to do is lead them through a short cool down stretch and let them know that I will see them next week.”

“Of course,” Gwen reassured as she pushed Ada towards the door. “Go. I'll take care of this.”

Ada rushed down the hallway to her office, snatching the phone from its cradle and skidding to a halt against her desk.

“This is Ada Cackle.”

"Miss Cackle, this is Diane with Memorial Hospital’s A&E department. One of the nurses found your information on an emergency contact card in Hecate Hardbroom’s wallet.”

Ada’s heart dropped. "Is she okay?!"

"Miss Hardbroom was brought in an hour ago after sustaining several injuries in a motor vehicle collision. She's currently in surgery, but she is in stable condition. The doctor will be able to tell you more once surgery is complete.”

“Thank you. I’m on my way now,” Ada said before the dial tone sounded through the receiver.

Lowering the phone slowly, she released a shaky exhale. Hecate was injured and Ada was terrified. Fear and dread churned her stomach in a turbulent mixture as she fought back the tears threatening to fall. With a fortifying breath, she quickly gathered up her purse and car keys before leaving a note telling Gwen to cancel her classes for today and tomorrow and letting her know she’d be in touch later about the rest of the week. 

A lifetime passed in the twenty minutes it took to reach the hospital. Ada snagged the first parking spot she could find before hurrying into the front entrance. From there, she was directed to the surgical waiting area on the third floor where she nervously paced the small room, thankful that there was no one else around to worry about disturbing. Her adrenaline was running high, a restless energy prickling along her limbs, and she didn’t think she could sit still if she tried. 

Ada wanted to call her mother. She longed to have someone to vent her panic and frustration to, to have someone tell her everything would be okay. But Ada couldn’t bring herself to worry Alma until she had a better idea of what was going on. 

A shared love of baking meant an instant bond had formed when Ada had first introduced her new partner to her mother just over a month ago. The decadent, chocolate raspberry torte Hecate had made for the occasion definitely hadn't hurt anything either. Alma had called her the next day, extolling Hecate’s chivalrous nature, impeccable manners, keen wit, and impressive baking skills. Much to Ada’s embarrassment, Alma had gone on to congratulate her for landing such an attractive and well-suited partner. It had been made all the more memorable with Hecate lying in bed beside her wearing nothing but a self-satisfied smirk as she listened to Alma sing her praises. 

Despite the awkwardness of that phone call, Ada had been secretly pleased to have her mother’s approval and Alma had only grown more fond of Hecate in the short time since. It wasn't unusual for them to meet up once or twice a week for lunch or to visit an early morning farmer's market together. Ada would join occasionally, but was more than happy to let two women develop their own relationship independent of her. 

As their relationship had progressed, Hecate had opened up to Ada about her conservative, religious upbringing that had resulted in emotional neglect and physical punishment. She’d only spoken of small things thus far; little incidents that Ada was certain were somewhat sugar coated for her benefit. But Ada saw the way Hecate startled at loud noises, flinched at raised voices, and woke from nightmares on the nights they spent together. It didn’t take much to form a clear picture of an unhappy, abusive childhood. 

In Alma, it seemed, Hecate had found the maternal love and support she'd never received before and the younger woman had fairly blossomed under the attention. 

Two hours passed before the waiting room doors opened to admit a tall man in scrubs heading her way. Ada’s heart clenched at the furrow marring his dark brow, already anticipating the worst. His expression cleared, however, when he spotted her and Ada felt like she could risk being a little hopeful at the reassuring smile he wore.

“Miss Cackle?” he asked, an accent Ada couldn’t place tinging his voice. At her nod, he continued, “My name is Dr. Achebe. I was the surgeon on call when your friend, Miss Hardbroom, was brought in.”

“How is she?” Ada was quick to ask.

“She came out of surgery just fine,” he assured and Ada took her first full breath since she’d gotten the phone call. “We’ve used pins to repair her shattered tibia and stitched up the few lacerations she sustained. She will need to stay here for a few days so that we can monitor the concussion she received, but as Miss Hardbroom was wearing her helmet and riding leathers, this is a much better outcome than we could have seen otherwise. She is in recovery now and as soon as she is moved to a room, one of the nurses will take you to see her. Please, I know it is difficult, but try not to worry too much. Barring any unforeseen complications, I expect Miss Hardbroom to make a full recovery.”

Ada thanked the doctor, shaking his hand absentmindedly before collapsing into the chair behind her in relief. Fatigue pulled at her as the adrenaline began to wear off. Tiredly rubbing at her eyes, Ada settled into her seat to wait for a nurse to come fetch her. 

Despite knowing about her girlfriend’s injuries and doing her best to mentally prepare herself, she still faltered at the sight of Hecate unconscious, banged up, and bandaged. Scrapes and bruises littered the exposed areas of Hecate’s flesh while wires and tubes connected her to an array of machines. Hecate’s dark hair hung limply around her face. The fluorescent lighting washed all color from her already pale face, emphasizing her sickly pallor. Ada was happy to note that Hecate was at least breathing on her own. 

Approaching the bed, Ada slipped her hand into Hecate’s, careful not to jostle the IV attached, and leaned over to place a gentle kiss to her temple. 

“Hello, dear,” she whispered before succumbing to the sobs she’d successfully suppressed up till now. 

All of her distress, relief, grief, and love poured from her in unrelenting waves until she had no more tears to shed. Sinking onto yet another uncomfortable hospital chair, Ada maintained her hold on Hecate’s hand and began her vigil over the injured woman. Even though it’d only been half a day since they’d parted, Ada missed Hecate with an intensity that she was still coming to terms with. Every second spent apart felt as if she was missing a piece of her soul. Not that she’d said as much to Hecate yet, too afraid of scaring the other woman off with the depths of her feelings. 

The moment she’d first laid eyes on Hecate, camera in hand and fully focused on her job, the restless, untethered, unnamable feeling that had been present throughout her entire life had quieted in an instant. Ada had surreptitiously watched Hecate during the rest of the ceremony, drawn in by her dark eyes and admiring the way her black, fitted suit emphasized long legs and strong shoulders. With her short hair slicked back from her face, highlighting prominent cheekbones and a sharp jaw, Ada had been a total goner.

It wasn’t until the reception was in full swing that Ada was able to make her move. She’d been dancing with Emmett Spindleman, her old dance partner, when she’d spotted the photographer standing at the edge of the dance floor watching her. Elated to have captured her attention, Ada had thrown the enraptured woman a devilish wink. She’d been utterly charmed at how flustered Hecate became once caught, visibly blushing before disappearing back into the safety of the crowd. 

Emboldened by her reaction, Ada had allowed Hecate a short respite before seeking the other woman out and asking her to dance. Hecate had hesitated, citing work as an excuse, but Ada had refused to lose her opportunity. She’d slowly laced her fingers with Hecate’s, her skin tingling at the contact, and wordlessly led Hecate onto the dance floor. She’d watched Hecate for any sign of discomfort, ready to pull away if she truly wasn't interested. Nervousness, uncertainty, and a small bit of fear had all passed through Hecate’s expressive eyes in the few seconds it had taken to reach a clear spot, but mixed with that had been curiosity, attraction, and cautious hope as well. 

They’d danced silently, Ada holding her tongue and waiting for Hecate to relax into the moment. Her patience had been rewarded after the third song when Hecate finally offered up her name. From there, the conversation had started to flow freely as they danced through several more songs. Tempos changed and bodies moved in and out of their periphery, but Ada hadn’t noticed anything outside the bubble she and Hecate had created. Inevitably, Ada had been pulled back into her maid of honor duties and Hecate back to work and Ada had been left feeling strangely empty without the other woman near. 

Ada had spent the rest of the evening trying to work up the courage to ask Hecate out on a date, but she hadn’t been able to bring herself to do it. She'd cursed her cowardice the next morning along with her low tolerance for champagne. After a long, hot shower and a bracing pot of tea, Ada decided to woman up and take a chance. She’d rung Mona, not caring that she was most likely interrupting her friend’s honeymoon, and practically begged her for Hecate’s contact information. Mona had teased her mercilessly before locating Hecate’s business card and rattling off the pertinent details.

Ada had resisted the urge to immediately call Hecate or rush down to her studio, knowing that it would be best to reach out to the other woman when she wasn’t half hung over and with an actual plan in place. So she waited and made reservations and showed up to Hecate’s studio the following Monday. They’d been going strong ever since. 

In this one, brilliant woman Ada had found her best friend, truest confidant, and equal partner.

Realizing she could no longer put off calling her mother, Ada rose from her seat, wincing as her lower back twinged in complaint, and placed another kiss to Hecate’s forehead before leaving the room. Ada made her way out into the early evening, welcoming a small reprieve from stale air and disinfectant, and pulled her forgotten cell phone from her purse. Ignoring the texts from Gwen for now, Ada noted a half dozen missed calls from her mother. Hitting redial, Ada bit at her thumb nail as she waited for her mother to pick up. 

“Ada,” her mother’s worried voice answered after the second ring, “what’s going on? Gwen said you’d been called to the hospital, but couldn’t tell me more than that.”

“It’s Hecate, mum. She was… She was in an accident. She’s fine,” Ada rushed to reassure as tears pooled in her eyes and her voice strained against the lump forming in her throat, “but she had to have surgery on her leg and she’s covered in cuts and bruises. And I… It’s just…”

“It’s just that the woman you love is injured and it is terrifying you because you still haven’t told her how you feel despite how much it’s killing you not to,” Alma stated gently but confidently in a way only a mother could.

Ada hesitated, unwilling to admit her cowardice to her mother, but knew Alma wouldn’t let it go until she answered.

“It’s only been four months,” Ada attempted to defend herself.

“Tsk, dear. What are you so afraid of? That woman looks at you as if you’d hung the moon yourself as well as all the stars.” Alma softened her tone, “She isn’t like the others. She isn’t going to toss you over for someone else.”

There it was, the crux of the matter. Alma may not have said her name, but Ada knew what she really meant was that Hecate wouldn’t leave her for Agatha the same way so many of her friends and previous lovers had. 

“Hecate is an old soul grounded in reality, entirely opposite of the vapid girls you used to bring home,” Alma continued after a moment. “Trust in her feelings for you, let her know how much you care. I promise, dearheart, she will not disappoint you. Now pull yourself together and go sit with my newest daughter. Let me know when she wakes up so I can come visit.”

Ada would never adequately be able to fully express the gratitude she held for her mother. Not only was she accepting when so many other parents weren’t, she always knew when Ada needed a listening ear or a swift kick. She was especially grateful that Alma hadn’t hesitated to welcome Hecate to the family.

She promised to call her mother as soon as anything changed before hanging up and dropping her cell back into her purse. Wiping at the tears silently running down her face, Ada thought about Alma's advice. She'd been worried this whole time about overwhelming Hecate and scaring her off, never considering that maybe it was exactly what Hecate needed to hear before she could fully trust and settle into their relationship. Ada knew she would need to be the one to take the next step and resolved not to put it off any longer than necessary. 

Returning to the room, Ada once again took hold of Hecate’s hand and settled onto the chair by the bed. Exhausted, she fought to stay awake as she leaned over to rest her head near Hecate’s knee. She soon succumbed to the inevitable. 

Long fingers slowly carding through her hair gently roused Ada. She hummed in sleepy satisfaction and attempted to snuggle closer to the source of the wonderful feeling. A low chuckle sounded in the quiet room pulling Ada from her slumber. She woke groggy and disoriented, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she sat up and stretched. When she finally opened her eyes, Ada found the most beautiful sight waiting for her. Hecate was sitting up in bed, eyes bright and alert with an affectionate smile firmly in place. 

“Hey,” Hecate spoke in a raspy whisper.

“Hello, my love,” Ada returned with a watery chuckle, watching as Hecate’s dark eyes lit with delighted realization. “I’ve missed you.”