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poison and wine

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Ten minutes after hanging the phone up, Hope bought a one-way plane ticket.

She didn't tell Jerramy, or Carli. She bought the ticket and packed a carry on and drove to the airport, even though she had around five hours to wait. She bought a book at a stand by the nearest Starbucks, curled up with a venti cup of black coffee and forced herself to read, to focus her mind on anything else. She bought another cup of coffee when her plane pulled in hours later, drinking half of it before the wheels even left the ground.

Hope realized that the caffeine was a mistake halfway into the flight, because she would do just about anything to just fall asleep. Coast-to-coast flights aren't her specialty, and God does she want to just shut her brain off for the next four hours.

When she finally landed, she'd finished the book, a forgettable thriller with a twist ending that she'd predicted from the first ten or so pages. Hope stood, rolling her neck and making her way out into the terminal, which was icy cold. She followed signs to a rental car company, asked for their cheapest car and gladly sank into the driver's seat, breathing in the overwhelming "fresh car" smell.

"Do you need a map or anything?" asked the woman checking her out, leaning in through the window. Hope just laughed and shook her head.

"I think I know my way around."

She hadn't made this drive in years, since Thanksgiving as a junior in college. She hadn't been home since her injury, and that wasn't by accident. Her mom wasn't the type to call or check in. Soccer had been an easy thing to talk about, a weekly occurrence to ask a few questions over and then disappear again until the next game. When soccer stopped, the phone calls from home stopped and Hope didn’t exactly do anything to encourage them to start again.

Her breath hitched as she pulled into the driveway. Someone had given the shutters a new layer of paint, planted little white flowers in the bed by the walk leading up to the door, and the grass was cut neat and low. For a moment she panicked, frightened that her mother had moved, that she had come all this way for nothing. And just as she was about to cuss herself out for not having the balls to call ahead, a car pulled into the driveway and parked, and her mother emerged from behind the wheel.

For a moment, she just watched. Her hair was well-done and she was wearing a light sweater and a pair of dark-wash jeans. She looked good — and Hope realized this with a wash of relief, as if she hadn’t abandoned this woman, as if maybe her absence had done some good, or at least not done any harm.

Finally, Hope unbuckled her seat belt and left the car. She walked slowly to the front door, raised her hand and paused. It took several seconds of standing, eyes closed, before she was able to rap her knuckles against the wood.

Her mother looked older as she swung the door open. Her face crumpled for a moment as she saw Hope, and then a smile filled her face with more joy than she’d ever seen in those eyes before.

Hope.” Judy hugged her, hard, dragging Hope into her chest. Her arms were bony, her whole body light and fragile like a bird's. "Oh honey you look beautiful."

She tugged Hope into the house, which smelled of vanilla and looked nothing like her childhood memories. She shifted awkwardly in the doorway, until her mother waved her into the kitchen, her smile broad and easy.

The kitchen was nothing like it used to be. The cracked table was gone, and its replacement was made of a sturdy pine. Hope sat down slowly at it, rubbing her thumb against the corner, noticing that the TV was gone, replaced by a vase full of peonies — Hope's favorites.

"So—" Judy sat in front of her, fingers interlaced, eyes wide with excitement. "How are you?"

And she told her everything. About the writing on her skin that she'd hidden since she was a child. About the phone calls, about Kelley's voice, the way she never failed to listen, the way she made her feel with words alone. About Jerramy and the way he always brought her flowers and made her feel at home just by tugging her into his chest. About the pain she felt whenever she thought about both of them in the same breath.

She pulled the ring from her pocket, where it had sat since they left New York, and laid it in between herself and her mother.

"Look," she whispered, and Judy gently lifted the ring, marveling at the subtle diamond.

"Oh, Hope." She sighed. "This is beautiful."

"I have to say yes, mom," Hope whispered. "I'm going to say yes. He's— He's too much to risk saying no to."

For a moment, they sat in silence, both of their eyes fixated on the ring in Judy's hands. Then, she took a deep breath and said more in a minute than she had ever said to Hope in her life.

"When I was three, I saw the writing for the first time." Hope's eyes darted up to her mother's face. "I don't remember it, but my parents said I was so excited. As soon as I learned to write, I wrote to him. We got along so well. We called every night once we were old enough — and this was before cell phones, so we were tying up the line all the time, it drove both our families mad."

She laughed softly, putting the ring back on the table.

"On December 12, he was supposed to call me." Hope watched her mother's features carefully. "He didn't. I waited a few days and then I called his house and—"

For a moment, her mother seemed to choke on her words before continuing.

"He'd been in a car accident," she whispered. "He flipped four times after the truck hit him. He died an hour later. He was 18. I never saw his face."

They sat in a silence that was heavy with grief, an old grief, a hidden mourning that carried the type of weight that dragged at every corner of her soul. Hope didn't know what to say, but something told her she wasn't necessarily meant to say anything.

"Hope, you get one soulmate," her mother continued after several minutes. "One person who you are meant to be with, who you are created to love and to cherish forever. And you might love someone else but it's never— it's never going to be the same."

She looked up, and their eyes locked.

"Not everyone gets their happily ever after." She smiled gently. "Go live yours."

Hope spent the night in her childhood bed, curled on one side and breathing in the familiarity of home. She spent the next morning tracing the outline of old soccer trophies, studying shelves cluttered with old pictures of herself and Marcus. She heard the door open behind her and smiled without turning around.

"I haven't seen him in years," Hope admitted. She glanced over one shoulder to see Judy leaned against the doorjamb.

"He lives ten minutes from here," she said. "He owns a restaurant with Jake, that buddy of his from college. They're doing alright."

Hope flushes for a moment. She doesn't know who Jake is, and she had forgotten that Marcus had always wanted to open a place of his own. She can imagine how it would look, how he described his dream as a child.

"You can go see him," Judy said hopefully, but Hope shook her head.

"I'm on the next flight out of here," she said, her voice regretful. "I want to stay longer but—"

"You have things to attend to." She reached out a hand, extending the ring. "You'll want this."

Hope nodded, smiling and wrapping her mom in a hug.

"Thank you," she whispered, and somehow, she realized that the last day had answered a lifetime of her questions.

It was time to face the fact that love was not something that came easily, that was handed to her, that was simple. Love was patient and kind, yes, but love was something to choose. And it was time to stop running from it, to stop acting as if all of this was something that she could put off.

Hope tucked the ring into her pocket. It was time to go home.

***

It took several minutes for Kelley to realize that her phone was ringing.

She'd meant to take a quick half-hour nap, but she'd passed out for two hours and Tobin didn't have the heart to wake her up. But a persistent vibration slowly roused her, and eventually she realized that her phone was ringing incessantly. She scrabbled at it and tapped "accept."

"Mm-hello?" Her voice sounded fuzzy, and she sat up, rubbing one palm into her left eye.

"Kell." And suddenly, she was as awake as she'd ever been. "Oh thank God I thought you weren't going to pick up."

"Hope?" She stood up, a hand running through her hair. "What's going on, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I mean no, I haven't been on a college campus in so long and I'm so confused but—" Hope sounded breathless and Kelley couldn't really understand anything she was saying. "I think I'm on the quad? Will you come to the quad?"

Kelley's blood ran cold.

"Are you— are you on campus?" she asked, already glancing around desperately for shoes, finding her Birkenstocks and shoving her feet into them, accidentally getting her left shoe on her right foot and then having to change them. "Hope, where are you?"

"I'm on the quad I think?" Kelley could hardly comprehend anything beyond her words and the cold of her phone in her hand. "And I— there's a church by me and—"

"Oh God, I know where you are, don't move." Kelley practically screamed as she grabbed her keys, shoving them in the waistband of her shorts. "Please don't move—"

"I'm not planning on it, just— can I see you?" Hope sounded desperate and Kelley was laughing, so hard she could barely breathe as she sprinted down the stairs and out the front door.

"For fuck's sake, Hope, I'll see you in five minutes," she growled.

"Okay, I'll be the one in the—"

"I'll know who you are."

Kelley had never been more sure of anything in her life.

She sprinted onto the quad, past Roble Hall, through the sculpture garden, through the grove, her feet half-slipping out of her sandals as she ran harder than she had since soccer. And it didn't matter how fast she moved, because Hope was there and wanted to see her and a handful of minutes, a few hours, wouldn't change that. But God she was tired of being apart from Hope and she didn't know if she could handle it for another second.

Kelley rounded the corner of Memorial Church and pulled up, eyes scanning the quad, the groups of boys tossing Frisbees, the girls reading in the shade, and then— she saw her.

She saw her and the world stopped.

Kelley honestly had no idea how she knew it was Hope. It was just something in her eyes, in the way she was looking around. Mostly it was the way her whole chest caved in just at the sight of her.

For a second, all she wanted to do was look. Hope's hair fell soft around her shoulders, brushing her collarbone. She wore a dark blue sweater that scooped low, and her hands clung gently to each other, and her eyes were sharp and brilliant and — god she was beautiful.

"Hope!" She screamed her name, and the woman's head whipped around, and the moment they saw each other she knew that there was no turning back, no getting over this. Hope started to walk across the quad towards her, but Kelley broke out in a run.

And really, it was an odd vision — Kelley in an oversized sorority sweatshirt, running shorts and Birkenstocks with her hair sloppily falling out of its ponytail, Hope with her makeup done in a J. Crew sweater and slim-fitting jeans. But then Kelley launched herself at Hope, arms wrapping around the back of her neck, and Hope caught her like it was all she knew how to do. She looped both arms around Kelley, tugging her tight and laughing as the smaller girl pressed her face into the curve of her neck and breathed in.

It felt like home.

"Don't let me go," Kelley whispered. She clung to Kelley, trying to memorize the way she smelled, the way her hair felt under the fingers of her right hand, the way her body was pressed insistently against hers. She didn't want to move. She didn't want to change a thing.

"I'm not," Hope whispered back. "I've got you."

Kelley stepped back, but only to grab Hope's face in both hands, eyes darting across every feature, thumbs dusting across her cheekbones. She pressed a kiss to her forehead, to both cheeks, to the tip of her nose. She stopped only when Hope started laughing, the sound light and giddy as her hands gripped at her sweatshirt even tighter, tugging her in so their hips were flush, foreheads knocking lightly into each other.

"Hey." Kelley grinned up at her. "You're beautiful. Can I kiss you?"

"As much as you want." Hope grinned back, and she didn't stop smiling as Kelley kissed her. Something about them fit perfectly, something in the way Kelley's hand tangled in Hope's hair and the way Hope cradled her face, in the way Kelley nudged her lips open a little wider and used her other arm to tug her closer by the small of her back.

They were both hungry for each other in a way they couldn't quite control, hands wandering, and Hope had to push Kelley back slightly, a laugh on her lips.

"Okay, okay, not as much as you want right now," she said, and Kelley smirked, raising an eyebrow. But the expression softened almost immediately as she smoothed a hand through Hope's hair, hand soft where it paused on Hope's jaw.

"You came," she whispered, dropping her forehead to rest on Hope's chest. "Why?"

Hope pressed a kiss to the top of her head, wrapping both arms around her shoulders and tugging her tight.

"I realized I wasn't made for anyone but you."