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Thousands of Ways of Breaking Yourself in Two

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"But you didn't fall in love with a person. You fell in love with a hurricane that had grown a beating heart and skin." - Nikita Gill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Tapping her nails against the metal frame of the waiting room chair, Holtzmann hummed to herself as she tried to be patient, expecting to hear her name any moment. A wrinkly piece of parchment paper was in her left hand, about to grow damp from her clammy palm, radiated by her nerves.

 

“Holtz?” A soft voice cut through her anxiety and the blonde popped up like a Jack-in-the-Box, all springs as she saw Sarah in the doorway of the psychiatry wing hall. Bouncing to her therapist, she hooked her arms in a hug around the woman’s shoulders. The gesture was returned with a laugh. “It’s nice to see you, dear. Come on back, we’ve got much to discuss, I’m sure!”

 

Following the woman and scratching her head in habit, she flopped into the next seat that she’d spent much time fretting in a year prior, her billowy, tan dress pants shifting as she wiggled to get comfortable.

 

“A year to the day, huh, Holtz?” Sarah started their first session in six months with a wide smile of positivity. Her insurance could have continued to pay for the private psychiatrist to treat Holtzmann, but given her progress and other coping mechanisms, they felt the occasional check-in would suit her needs just fine. “Look at you — you’ve done exceptional. You brought your homework?”

 

“Mhm,” She mumbled, feeling her cheeks grow red.

 

“Well,” Sarah speed a palm open gesturing to the paper. “It’s been a year since the explosion and the crisis and surgery and PT and therapy and the start of group for you. How do you feel?”

 

“Like I’ve been blown up,” She said teasingly as she opened her paper to make sure she didn’t miss anything major from the year’s hastily-scrawled time capsule of experiences. “In a good way, yeah. My life really has blown up, for the better. I moved in with my girlfriend, then we moved out to a house we bought together and fixed up…work started getting easier around March…Erin started working more for the review and even though I wasn’t really sure I was capable, convinced me to work on an engineering column which became really successful. I, um…won two more awards since the one you were at, both for science, not saving the world, though.”

 

“Still!” Sarah beamed, “Holtz, your progress has been incredible. You’ve not only maintained your normal life, despite the trauma, you’ve thrived. I’m so proud of you. I still get bi-monthly updates from Dan, but tell me how you’ve been feeling and coping with all this, despite the positivity in your life, I imagine there’s still days when it’s challenging?”

 

Shrugging, the engineer gripped her paper and nodded. “I still get nightmares. Usually I wake up Erin and she just does her magic with holding me and I fall back asleep with no problem. Sometimes when I’m working I get a flashback but I breathe through it and talk about it in group on Fridays and…that’s about it. Maybe a few times a month I have to deal with it. Oh!” She rolled up her right sleeve and revealed a small, black double triangle on her wrist. “I got another tattoo, too. It’s the alchemy symbol of unity - literally it translates to ‘all that is.’ Erin and I both got it, I think it explains it self.” She winked the last line, tracing the deep black shape that contrasted her pale skin.

 

All there is,” Sarah repeated and found a gentle grin. “That’s very appropriate for the two of you. It seems like despite all the chaos of your job, the trauma, the stress of working in an experimental field, the big move — all the little day-to-day exhaustions, you two know that ultimately? You’re all that there is to worry about on this Earth. Holtzmann, you are so lucky the two of you found one another in this big, helter-skelter world.”

 

That night, Holtz scooted out of bed around three-thirty, pressing a kiss on Erin’s temple when the still-slumbering woman rolled to her side at the movement on the mattress. With trembling fingers, she whispered a few shushing sounds of comfort, for herself or her partner, she wasn’t quite sure. Watching Erin’s brow unfurl once more, the engineer pulled the blanket up over her chest. Taking their logo t-shirt and pair of black and red pajama pants that were neatly folded on the bench at the edge of the footboard, she stepped into them and crept from the room. The December chill was well in the air and the floorboards as she made sure she was breathing normally, despite the nightmare fresh in her thoughts.

 

They’d moved into the townhouse in May, learning more than either of them knew about building construction during the hot New York summer they spent personalizing the place. Their new abode was almost a half hour ride from the firehouse in NYC traffic, originally a concern for both women. When Holtzmann had seen the size of the elaborate master bath and Erin the cozy benched-in window of a breakfast nook in the cutesy kitchen, however, they’d both been sold. Holtz had been hoarding money for years away in a savings bond, deciding it was time to crack it open and put a sizable downpayment on the more-than-they-wanted-to-spend home. She’d made a half-teasing joke to Erin that she was stuck with the zany scientist forever — though Holtz knew she’d get a return on investment if things ever went south and had to sell the place off.

 

Still — they’d survived remodeling and trauma in just one year, she was sure things were always going to be fine between them. If they could survive that, they could survive just about any challenge life had for them. Holtz loved their new place too much to leave it.

 

The stainless steel-filled kitchen was a bit colder as she stepped in, even with clothes on. The silver appliances were accented with white country cabinets that had dark cherry wood contrasting handles to match the floors in the rest of the house. Holtz loved the island that also served as a bar-style counter on one side, stools tucked up neatly under the surface. The white granite countertops had proved durable when she’d tried to sneakily experiment with acids shortly after moving in. Erin had originally thrown a fit, but when seeing that they took the rust out of their highly-coveted balcony railing, she’d settled down.

 

Holtz winced at the harsh overhead lighting above the kitchen sink as her eyes adjusted after flipping the switch. Opening a narrow drawer to the right of the coffee pot, she retrieved a pair of yellow-tinted glasses, which immediately dulled the tone. With a tiny breath of relief, she poured herself a small glass of water, chugging it in three swallows. Pulling herself up on top of the counter, she rubbed under her eyes, scratched at her hair and persuaded her body that the rolling nightmares of her body being thrust backwards in time and space had been just that.

 

Reaching blindly behind her, she opened a cabinet and retrieved a box of cereal, trying to quietly unwrap the plastic bag inside the colorful cardboard box. Foregoing a bowl, milk, or spoon, she took fistfuls at a time, shoving Fruity Pebbles into her mouth, dropping some onto the floorboards. Losing track of the early morning hour, Holtz did her best not to stew on the cascade of trauma that still occasionally washed over her, especially after talking about it as she’d done with Sarah.

 

Snapping out of her stupor at the sound of a groan and rustle from down the hall, the blonde considered rushing to keep her girlfriend on the mattress, but heard the sound of the toilet lid being opened first. Shrugging, she continued to munch on the children’s cereal, not bothered by the pieces that kept falling from the box-to-mouth transport.

 

Erin shuffled into the room looking like absolute morning hell and Holtz could have eaten the sight for breakfast sans cereal. Her hair was a hot mess of tangles, bangs curled up and pillow-head claiming her. Her eyes were barely revealed beneath their sleepy hooded state, her bottom lip curled out slightly. She frowned at the sight of Holtzmann on the counter, padding towards her.

 

Holtz coughed on cereal dust in her lungs as her gaze traveled to what Erin had on her body — just a pair of lacy black underwear under the unbuttoned matching flannel pajama top to the pants the blonde had snatched. As Erin was about to stand in front of her girlfriend, she crunched pieces of fruity flakes beneath her feet and moaned, falling dramatically forward into Holtz’s belly as she stepped on more cereal by positioning herself between her legs. “Why are you like this?”

 

With another improper sound coming out of her as a snort, the engineer shrugged, her hand that wasn’t filled with cereal resting between Erin’s shoulder blades. “Hungry?” She asked teasingly, sticking the palm full of colorful grains in Erin’s face when she turned to the left.

 

To her surprise, the sleepy woman licked a large portion of the flakes from her hand, making Holtz laugh far too loudly for the morning hour as the physicist gagged down the cereal. “Disgusting.”

 

You’re disgusting,” Holtz teased back, licking the rest of it off before bending at the waist to turn on the water, rinsing her sticky hand and shaking the droplets off. “Sorry ‘bout the mess.”

 

Erin pulled back, the lights still too much for her. “’S four in the morning. Saturday! No inventing before nine on weekends, you promised.”

 

“Not inventing.” Jumping down from the counter after hearing Erin’s unconjoined thoughts; she opened the country-door’d window-pantry for the handheld vacuum cleaner inside. She sucked up the crumbs on the tile, then lifting Erin’s foot and getting any ground into her skin, making her laugh at the suction while she kept her balance with a hand in Holtz’s hair.

 

“Just hungry?” Erin questioned groggily as Holtz led them on the light-green runner rug back to the bedroom that was past the stairs.

 

“Nightmare,” She responded simply, flopping back onto the bed upon arrival.

 

Erin’s lips tugged downward again as she sat on the mattress next to Holtz, who stared up at the twinkling star-shaped fairy lights around the edge of the room. The house makeover in every space was done for both of their interests and personalities. Compromise and endless shopping trips and clique blogs later had given the couple a bedroom that was soft, glowing just for them. Gone were the greys and creams, and in their monotone place were a variety of shades of blue and purple. With her body spread across navy sheets, Holtz glanced up to stare at Erin’s somewhat guilty expression. “You were so peaceful, it wasn’t my worst one. Didn’t wanna wake you. Sorry that I did.”

 

Gently tugging her glasses off, the older woman tucked their arms over and placed them on the swirled hues of violet on the nightstand scarf. The blonde tore off her clothes once again, tossing them to the floor, rolling onto her stomach and clutching a pillow under her chin.

 

Erin tilted her head, trying to figure out what was going on in her girlfriend’s inner circuitry. Adjusting a thin, purple blanket up and over Holtz’s hips, she settled in next to her, still sitting up, taking the velour comforter to her waist. Biting her lip, she traced the cursive writing on Holtzmann’s back with the edge of her index fingernail. When Holtz looked up at her, shadows in the hollow of her ocular bone but twinkling pupils shining from the artificial starlight, Erin felt her breath get caught in the back of her throat for a moment.

 

“You’re goddamn sexy in this ensemble,” Holtz mumbled, reaching pale fingers to tug on the side of the flannel top. “Just the panties on the bottom — how dare you.”

 

Giggling, Erin kept her movement across the light skin, even in the darkened room, the words of the tattoo were such a deep contrast to Holtz’s flesh tone. “I was just thinking how beautiful you look right now.” Holtz let out a tutting sound of disbelief before accepting a Fruity Pebble-flavored kiss from Erin. After pulling away, Erin yawned and laid back into her space, rolling to her right to reach for her girlfriend one last time. Holtz took her fingers between her own, holding her hand near Erin’s head as they both fell asleep once more.

 

X

Erin found herself up again a few hours later, trapped in watching Holtz sleep (she wasn’t quite the pretty picture from previously in that early morning) before pulling herself out of bed and padding to the kitchen. She tossed her hair up on top of her head and started coffee, noting she was still in that goddamn sexy outfit that Holtz had enjoyed the night before. Spotting a conglomeration of Apple devices charging in their station near the windowsill, Erin grinned and took her Sleeping Beauty’s phone. Forcing herself to look ridiculous in a selfie, she ensured that just enough boob was sticking out before snapping the photo and setting it as the lockscreen. While the coffee finished brewing, she unplugged her tablet and flipped it open to the news, watching a segment from the Today show before pouring her cup of java and easing into her cozy breakfast nook.

 

Turning on a mellow playlist, she relaxed against the paisley bench cushions of the yellow-and-green space. After finding an article in her email she was supposed to be editing for the Physics Review Journal, she was comfortable and ready for the Saturday morning life she’d always wanted to live…

 

Until her paragraph faded and a triple beeping sound replaced her music for an incoming FaceTime from…

Barbara Gilbert

“No, no, no, no, no!” She hissed to herself, not dismissing the call as she didn’t want her mother to think she’d screened it. Putting her head in her hands, she knew that ignoring the woman would only drive a day of intense anxiety (of course, conversing with her would likely do the same). Sucking up her pride, she answered it as a call instead, awkwardly moving her face down to the tablet speaker while buttoning her shirt up. “H-hello?” She whispered in a sleepy-sounding voice.

 

“Erin! Honey! Did I wake you up?”

 

“Yeah —“ She yawned for extra effect, rolling her eyes.

 

“Sorry, sweetie. Just switch over to the camera when you’re ready.”

 

“Something wrong with the sound of my voice?” She asked with a little more sarcasm than absolutely necessary.

 

“No — but I haven’t seen your face outside of tabloids in months, and I haven’t seen your face in person in two years, so I don’t think it’s asking too much to FaceTime with your mother.”

 

Oh, Barbara with the read, Erin thought to herself as she moved around so it sounded like she was shifting about the house. Making sure her top was done, she sighed and turned the tablet to video mode.

 

The image before her revealed a long-necked woman with (obviously dyed) brown hair that had chunky highlights as it ended at her nape in a fierce cut that was a bit much for a sixty-eight-year-old woman. She had makeup on along with an outfit straight out of a Lands’ End catalogue. A maroon, black and yellow color block cardigan was crisply over a white button-up top. Erin felt quite underdressed for the unexpected call, but feeling inferior to her mother was a lifelong journey, she supposed.

 

“Well, there’s a sight for sore eyes! You’re looking fresh.” Erin had to remember her mother could see her now, and restrained the next roll of her eyes which was looming.

“That’s me,” The younger Gilbert woman responded, lifting a hand. “Pretty much look the same that I always have.”

“But your hair is longer I can tell by how high your ponytail is, and the side-swept bangs are really trendy these days! Wait a second…that’s — is that your kitchen?”

 

Flushing, Erin grimaced visibly, then winced when her mother reacted to the expression. “Aye, ah - yeah, did I mention I moved?”

 

“No!”

 

“Oh, well, yeah, um…I moved! No big deal.”

 

Barbara’s lips went a little tighter as she leaned towards the camera, trying to inspect the wall behind her daughter (which was thankfully near-bare, save for the yellow curtains).

 

“Honey, when did you move?”

 

Chewing the inside of her lip and assuming the conversation wouldn’t get worse if she told the truth, she admitted, “May.”

 

“Erin, you need to work on your communication!” The woman criticized and at the comment, Erin let the eye-roll slip. “Honestly, sweetheart! I like knowing what’s going on in your life and it hurts that you wouldn’t share something so monumental.”

 

“Didn’t seem like a monumental move. It’s just further from work, bigger.”

 

“You can afford a bigger place in New York on a government salary?” Trying to find a good explanation, she heard her mother sigh and watched the woman close her eyes in realization. “You moved in with your girlfriend, didn’t you.”

 

Fiddling with her sleeves, Erin shrugged, especially with the pointed tone of girlfriend. “We got a place together.”

 

“Erin,” Barbara looked positively mortified, though she tried not to let it show too obviously. “Honey, you know — I don’t necessarily approve of your lifestyle, but I would like to know what goes on it! But, and…it’s so hard, as a mother to have to say this, but the two of you could be legally married now! Wouldn’t you want to do things more…traditionally? Get married, then get a place together?”

 

Unable to hold in a snort of laughter, Erin brought her hands up to rub over her face. “Oh, really? Do we have to do this at eight-thirty in the morning?”

 

“I’m just saying, that since your people have all the rights as regular people do now, you might as well follow suit—“

 

“Oh, my god, mom,” Erin huffed, watching Barbara struggle to keep a straight face once again. “First of all my people probably don’t like being marginalized as a group to have assumptions thrown on them and two, how is anything about my life traditional right now? And don’t you feel that gays getting married violates the scantily of your marriage somehow? You can’t have it both ways.”

 

Barbara held up a hand. “You know, I didn’t call you to argue politics, dear.”

 

Letting out a long breath, Erin raised her brows and rubbed the back of her neck with her left hand, purposefully letting the tattoo Holtz designed show on her arm as she moved it. Unfortunately, Barbara didn't seem to notice, otherwise it would have been another whole can of worms. “If you didn’t call to berate my job or lifestyle,” Erin said sharply, “Why did you call?”

 

Opening and closing her mouth, the woman quietly stated, “I was hoping you might come home for Christmas.”

 

Erin was in stunned silence at her mother’s confession. Managing a response, she uttered, “It’s…wow, that’s a nice offer and all but — I don’t see that happening.”

 

“Oh,” Barbara looked put out and suddenly, Erin felt guilt creeping up the back of her neck.

 

Meanwhile, Holtzmann woke up with a little puddle on her pillow and a stiff neck. Flinging the covers off her lower half before picking up the sheet and draping it over herself like a Jedi, she stumbled to the kitchen where she hoped the coffee was ready.

 

Yawning loudly upon entering, she first flopped down on the bench next to Erin, not catching her panicked face as she cracked, “You kept the sexy jammies on just for me? Baby, I didn’t —“

 

She recognized the expression suddenly, eyes trailing in what seemed like slow-motion to the video feed of Barbara looking quite alarmed at the sight of a nearly-naked lesbian trying to climb in her daughter’s lap.

 

All but flipping off the bench, she managed an apology before scrambling to get some clothes on. Returning a few minutes later to see Erin had shifted the topic to something Barbara was thrilled to talk about — her little white, fluffy excuse of a dog, she gestured to wonder if she should join her girlfriend in the call or not. Shrugging, Erin patted the space next to her and Holtz slid in, wearing a demur plain blue t-shirt and her hair swept back into a messy bun.

 

“Good morning, Ms. Gilbert,” She said with a flush when Barbara got another look at her. This was only their second call of any nature, and Holtz was not surprised at how miserably her palms were sweating and legs jittering.

 

“Jillian, is it?”

 

“That’s me,” She said and brought a hand under the table to squeeze Erin’s. “Who’s this?”

 

“This is Angel,” Barbara cooed, “My new baby. She’s just fifteen weeks old!”

 

“Name should be Fallen Angel!” A grumpy voice from behind Barbara stated before a tall, sandy-haired, mustached man appeared in a sweater vest. “The thing chews everything! Pisses all over the place.” Both ladies laughed as Richard Gilbert shooed the dog away before Barbara could defend it and took a seat. “Good morning, Sunshine. And…you prefer your last name, Holtzmann? Good morning to you, too.”

 

The patriarch of the family managed to keep a friendly conversation going for about ten minutes before freeing the women of the Barbara trap, which Erin suspected could have lasted several hours had he not.

 

“Hey, Sunshine, I know your mother here would love to have you for Christmas, but seeing how it is already just two weeks before, maybe we could get together with you before or after, since I’m sure you two already have plans.”

 

Erin eyed her girlfriend and shrugged. Holtz returned the gesture, chewing on her thumbnail.

 

“We’ll talk about it. Thanks for the offer, dad.”

 

Barbara made a long winded speech goodbye before Richard cut her off. “Nice talkin’ to you, honey. You, too, Holtzmann!”

 

After ending the call, Erin put her arms on the table and head on top of them for a solid five minutes, shoulders shaking in a silent, exhausted cry.

 

Holtz rubbed her back and kissed her neck, her shoulder, her spine — whatever she could reach as she tried to offer any sort of comfort she could.

 

“I don’t even know why I’m crying?” Erin finally stated as she wiped her tears with the sleeves of the flannel shirt.

 

“Because that was overwhelming, unexpected, and Barb always stresses you out,” Holtz offered in response. She stood up and pulled Erin’s hands, taking her into the small cozy space they’d created as a living room. Turning on the electric fireplace that was in a hutch cut out of the far wall, she loaded the fuzzy white rug in front of it with a mound of pillows from the couch, laying across them, slightly propped up. Opening her arms, she took Erin as the woman straddled her and laid her head across Holtz’s chest. She covered the her naked legs in a blanket before kissing her slowly and sweetly a few times, trying to take the undesirable start to their day off their minds.

 

X

 

Erin called Abby and Patty over for dinner and a movie that night. Though she was sure they’d regret the choice about halfway through the movie when Holtz got handsy, she wanted her whole family together as she considered seeing her biological one for the holiday.

 

“The thing is, though, Erin, your mother means well. You do know that right?” Abby asked, leaned over the kitchen island on her elbows, her black cardigan brushed up against the white granite. Erin chopped lettuce as the taco meat steamed in a crockpot, trying not to let her lips draw into a tight line to resemble the woman of topic. “She’s…uneducated in a conservative environment. That’s toxic for tolerance. And I’m not excusing her behavior, but I really don’t think she says the things she does to get a rise out of you.”

 

Shaking her head, auburn locks swinging a little, Erin swallowed the bit of pride that was trying to go on the complete offensive. “It’s just hard to feel loved when you know that despite mounting evidence for the paranormal and changing laws for the LGBT community, she still can’t accept the daughter that’s in front of her.”

 

“Erin,” Abby sighed, walking around the countertop to give her best friend a side-hug. “Your mom loves you.”

 

“She loves part of me,” The physicist snapped, then cringed, dropping the knife on the cutting board and curling her fingers in as she squinted her eyes shut for a moment. Taking a deep breath, she expressed, “She loves the potential for her normal daughter to have a normal career in a normal relationship.”

 

“Does Barb really know what normal is?” Abby tried to defend her mother and Erin would have no more of it. She’d always done it — try to smooth things over between the Gilberts and their only child. Partially because she couldn’t handle the physical tension when they were all together, and partially because she’d come from such a supportive environment, it was hard to see Erin so stifled.

 

“Fine,” She spat out, wiggling from Abby’s supportive embrace. “Traditional — whatever label you want to give a successful, heterosexual, married, middle-aged woman with a budding career in academia who doesn’t have to take medication to function in the world. She loves that far-out version of Erin who doesn’t exist — not anymore.” Letting a little puff of air fall between her lips, Erin looked up, fighting back tears. “Not that she ever really did.”

 

“Coming back in for the hug,” Abby warned, wrapping Erin up from behind. With a sigh, she pressed her cheek to the taller woman’s back as she linked her arms around her shoulders, squeezing her fist over her sternum. Erin relaxed, swallowing hard. “I don’t mean to defend her. I just know she may not act like it, but she’s always wanted to do right by you. You’re her only child, Erin — and, yeah, you know? Maybe you haven’t given her everything she wants to brag about to her gals at Bible Study, but you know what? You’ve achieved all any parent truly wants for their child, and that is to be happy. You’re happy, aren’t you?”

 

“Not at the moment,” Erin mumbled but then turned to nuzzle her cheek against her best friend’s. “But in general, absolutely.”

 

“See?” She pecked her sweetly before letting go. “Even if it’s not the life she pictured for you, it’s the one that makes you happy. Eventually, Barb will see that. But I think she needs to see you in order for that to happen.”

 

Meanwhile, Holtzmann had Patty trapped in the downstairs, which she and Erin had converted to a modern office and lab. The windows were high on the terrace floor, leaving plenty of room for shelving and tables below. They’d gutted out a wall that had originally separated the single room into two tenant spaces, leaving a wide open space that had a very large drafting table against the furthest wall, with two L-shaped desks touching backs in the middle of the wall opposite the windows. Near the stairs, the only additional doorway in the good-size room led to a spare bathroom that contained a closet with a washer and dryer — a true NYC luxury. The middle of the room housed Holtz’s current project, while everything else was neatly stowed per Erin’s obsessive compulsiveness.

 

All along the walls, patents, degrees, awards, and articles were neatly framed and displayed in an eye-appealing fashion. Patty enjoyed stalking the perimeter of the room, observing professional photos of them mid-bust while Holtz rambled.

 

“I just — I know my mother was…her own person,” She sighed, opening up on a rare occasion. Patty didn’t want to draw her in and away from sharing her thoughts, so she tried to stay mute and nonchalant as to not spook her Holtzy. “She had her challenges, but I never doubted that she accepted me. Loved me? Yeah — it’s never been easy to understand how she could claim to love her daughter without giving up her lifestyle — if she loved me, wouldn’t she have stopped and meant it for more than a few months? But — she accepted me, Patty. Flaws and all, aways.”

 

“Baby, they ain’t flaws,” The taller woman insisted as she settled into Holtz’s black leather desk chair, spinning and rolling it to park in front of the woman and her machine — which she’d provided details on upon arriving in the basement; Patty had smiled and nodded along with the explanation. “Being a massive nerdy gay scientist is not a flaw, it’s who you are. Your mother accepted you for who you are. Not because you were her daughter with some flaws that she could look over.”

 

“Okay, but —“ Holtz tried to stress, rubbing under her round safety goggles to keep frustrated tears at bay. “No mother looks down at their six pound bundle of joy and thinks, ‘wow I can’t wait to have a homosexual mad scientist with zero social decorum.’”

 

“No,” Patty shrugged, “They look down at they little baby and think, ‘damn, that’s perfection.’ And Holtzy, you’re perfection just the way you are. Oh, don’t you cry — come here, sweetie.”

 

She curled up in Patty’s lap, resting her head against the woman’s shoulder as she rubbed her upper arm. “It just really bothers me that Erin’s mother has never accepted her just as she is. You know, she might’ve been drunk when she showed up to the meeting, but my mom let the school administration have it when they tried to put me in special room for kids with disabilities just because they didn’t know what else to do with me. She read off some laws like some well-to-do advocate instead of drunken trailer trash; all because she knew I needed acceptance as I was, not to fit into some mold of how kids should act because it’s what adults want from them. Erin didn’t have that.”

 

“No,” Patty agreed, ruffling the poof of blonde curls at the top of her head. “But she’s got you now. And we all know you’ll defend her.”

 

“Until my dying breath,” Holtz said in a silly, cryptic voice. Patty chuckled and patted her arm.

 

“That’a girl. C’mon, it’s gotta be close to taco time!”

 

Holtz slid dramatically off Patty’s lap and to the smooth, beige tile floor of the lab. “Patricia will you sit by me at dinnertime?” She asked with her nose closed off and Patty gave a playful tug to the collar of her slightly-wrinkled, muted orange button-up, rubbing the swirly embroidery that traveled along the shoulders when she finally stood on two feet. She slid her goggles off her poof of hair and hung them neatly among others on the wall near the stairs.

 

“I will if you promise not to pretend you don’t know that my foot isn’t Erin’s. I ain’t about that footsie business.”

 

“Maybe I just like your feet,” Holtz said with a flirty smile and a wink. She turned off the light with a series of claps and a whistle before motioning for Patty to go upstairs after an exaggerated eye-roll. “Maybe I got a foot fetish — ask Erin.”

 

“Oh my god,” Abby mumbled as she walked by the staircase from the bathroom, flicking her damp hands at Holtz, leaving a water droplet on her glasses and making her hiss. “All I heard was Erin and foot fetish and I do not want to know.” 

 

The three made their way to the kitchen where Erin had just pulled the soft shell tortillas from their warmer.

 

“I do not need to visualize Erin suckin’ on your nasty-ass toes. You probably got some serious fungus grownin’ up in there — savin’ it for science or some shit,” Patty jested shaking her head.

 

Clearing her throat, Erin tossed a casual forearm to Holtz’s shoulder when the woman offered a sheepish grin before pulling her lips into her mouth, waiting for chastisement for joking about their sex life. She rocked on her supposedly, nasty-ass toes, hands curling into a nervous twist behind her back.

 

“Her toes are clean,” The older scientist assured them. “I lick in all the cracks.”

 

At that, Holtz fell to the floor laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe while Abby groaned loudly, shouting obscenities and Patty moved herself to the kitchen wall which had a plaque that read in perfect calligraphy, ‘In this kitchen, we dance.’ She knocked her head into the faux country brick mortar that separated the kitchen from the living room, she pretended to cry.

 

“You’re all very good at releasing Erin’s Box. Far more sinister than Padora’s, I assure you — though I’d like to explore that topic more in the new year. Tacos, ladies?”

 

At that, Holtz was full on snorting as she rolled face-first into the floorboards. “Oh, baby — I’m ready for your tasty taco!”

 

“I’m going home!” Abby shrieked, clutching the kitchen island as she wheezed. “I can’t take it! You two are the worst!”

 

A minute of chaos passed and Holtz finally pulled herself up, wiping the tear tracks from her cheeks before passing plates out to her friends, promising to stop the teasing. Eventually, they were all settled around the booth of Erin’s favorite nook while she opened wine coolers with Holtz’s swiss army knife. The blonde was between Patty and Abby, intentionally placed to keep the couple from getting too touchy during the meal. She chugged half her beverage before lacing her fingers together and resting her chin on them. “My love? Have you come to a decision on Operation Frosty Flakes?” Whispering to Patty loudly she explained the code name, “The flakes are her parents, frosty is her attitude towards them.”

 

Sighing after a bite of too-good-to-be-inauthentic Mexican food, she announced, “I don’t want to see my parents. But —“ Erin sighed, “I feel like I have to. The thought of going to Michigan and stepping into the cereal capital of the world makes me a little queasy, not just because it’s so full of sugar and artificial dye, but —“ She looked at her hands, which had a little shake to them. Abby noticed, offering one a squeeze. Shooting her a look of gratitude, Erin rubbed her lips together and shrugged. “It’s been two years and I really should.” She squeezed her eyes shut and groaned.

 

“That’s right, you should,” Abby stressed. “She’s your mother and it will fill the empty void in her life for another two years if you just spend a weekend with her. Holtzy? I’m assuming you’ll be going with?”

 

The engineer froze, a stuffed mouthful of Spanish rice popping open as she considered the question. “Um…”

 

“Chew,” Patty reminded her, slugging her upper arm with her elbow, earning a cough while Holtz spewed a few pieces back on the plate. “Ohmygod.”

 

Managing to suck the spicy grains down, she shrugged. “I guess if Erin wants me to.”

 

Her girlfriend looked up from her self-loathing with a perplexed glance. “Why wouldn’t I want you to come?”

 

Quiet for two seconds too long, Holtz shrugged, her gaze locking on the ceiling. Fuck —she was a horrible liar.

 

Abby’s expression was soft as she put an equally gentle palm on Holtz’s forearm. “Holtz?”

 

Licking her lips, Holtz stared down at her plate, before muttering in a single breath, “I’m not the type of girl you bring home to impress your parents and I don’t want to embarrass you Erin, I know things are tense enough and I have a feeling I’m going to say or do something no matter how hard I try to behave to ruin whatever calm you manage to achieve and I don’t want to cause any more hard feelings than there already are.”

 

All three women tried to talk at once, but Erin’s voice rang loudest while Abby clutched her arm a little tighter. “I don’t give a fuck what my parents think about you,” She said with affirmation. Her jaw was set but eyes held nothing but the intensity of two years worth of love and sacrifice that she’d put into the relationships in her life that mattered — namely the one with the suddenly self-conscious blonde across from her. “If they think you’re anything less than the spectacular woman I know you are? It’ll give me reason to never go back. Holtz, Jill — I love you, and if they don’t love you? They’re not worth my anxiety anymore. Blood relatives or not.”

 

Holtz’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. She couldn’t focus on Erin through the water pooling against her iris. Letting out a little cry, she slid over Abby’s lap to hug her girlfriend, kissing her cheek and then her neck. “I’ll go with you.”

 

There was a thousand pounds of tension released from Erin’s shoulders as she said the words and both women laughed before sharing a soft, quick peck to the lips before pulling away and Holtz straddled Abby once more, kissing her forehead before Patty’s, not wanting either of them to be left out on the way back to her seat.

 

“Now that that’s settled — we have been given two week’s vacation. Homeland security is working through the holiday and I say we take advantage of them. I’d like to go home too, and Patty I know you’ve got family obligations here in the city.”

 

“Oh yeah — Christmas and my Uncle’s seventieth birthday. It’s gon’ be lit at the Talon family, ya’ll. Gon’ be gettin’ all kinds’a crazy text messages from yours truly.”

 

“So,” Abby continued, offering smiles all around. “What do we say — we take off the nineteenth through the second? You two go on the nineteenth, back by the twenty-third to spend your gross, kissy Christmas together?”

 

“You know it!” Holtz grinned. “And I don’t think kissing is quite an accurate description of the unholy night we’ll be having—“

 

She was slugged again mid-bite, causing another spray of rice before laughter.

 

“Erin?” Patty blinked. “You’re sure you wanna take this one home?”

 

Trying not to giggle, but nodding with the fondest gaze she held, Erin promised, “I’ve never been more sure of anything.”

 

An hour later, they were tucked into the upstairs of the tri-level townhouse. Sloped ceilings, one large window with black-out curtains, and a tan carpeted floor made the room particularly useful to media viewing. The large flatscreen on the single burgundy-hued wall in the room had lit up a recently released comedy to lighten the mood. Abby had claimed the large bean-bag with weird hippie print, Patty was in the comfy, well-loved Lazy-Boy, while Erin and Holtz were wrapped up on a futon, the little one with Erin’s head on her legs as they tried to focus. Anxiously waiting for the movie to be over so they could talk more about their upcoming vacation, if one wanted to call it that, Holtz was a twitchy, fidgety mess.

 

When their friends departed shortly before midnight, the homeowners slumped against one another in a mutual groan of a hug on the main floor. They both chuckled tiredly and Holtz slid slowly, dramatically down Erin’s body until she was sitting on her feet, arms wrapped around her legs, face pressed against her knees. “Bedtime?”

 

“Talk time,” Holtz muffled into the denim material. “Big Serious Talk Time.”

 

Cringing, Erin tugged her girlfriend’s arm, trying to lift her up only to find herself pulled to the floor with an, “Ommf!” instead. Containing her eye roll, she criss-crossed her legs, watching Holtz fiddle with her glasses before folding them and chewing her cheek. Letting out a long, loud breath, Holtz looked up at the ceiling as she confessed, “I love you with all my heart and I never want to spend a day without you but I’m not sure I should go home with you since it’s hard enough for you to get along with your family and you know I’m going to say or do something embarrassing and make everything worse or ruin things completely and I just want you to be happy and have some sort of relationship with them and —“ She yipped suddenly when Erin pounced forward like a cub in the Lion King, pinning her to the plush runner beneath Holtz’s back.

 

Blue gazed at blue, Erin shaking her head firmly. “You are my family. The only relationship I care about aside from our friends is this one. Would I love a relationship with my mom based on mutual respect and sincerity? Sure — but at this point, I’m not sure it’s possible. I’d really rather have you with me, making fun of her handcrafted sweater snowmen, then go by myself. She’s going to say or do something far worse than anything you might perceive yourself doing as embarrassing. The difference is that it’s going to hurt me. And I’d really rather you be there to help me stay strong or hold me if I can’t.”

 

Pushing off her shoulders and twisting so she was popped up against the hallway entrance, Erin glanced up at the series of black and white photos of them across from her. The first one was of the two of them dressed up at one of Patty’s cousins’ weddings that summer, Holtz had been in a light grey suit, Erin in a yellow dress, the two of them laughing as they danced in the still, bodies close, hands at each other’s waists. “I won’t force you to come, though. I know it’s awkward and unfortunately, I can’t return the favor for you.”

 

Holtzmann was silent as she continued to lay where she’d been tackled, the smooth beige ceiling very interesting as she tried to find an excuse that didn’t sound pitiful.

 

Unfortunately, none came to her as she contemplated the mysteries of the universe and Erin’s family and the thought of Erin’s mother saying something that might make Erin cry and her being alone trying to cope with it —

 

“If you don’t think I’m going to somehow upset you more if I say something…”

 

Erin skated her thumb over her knuckles and firmly stated, “You won’t.”

 

Rolling over and pushing herself up on her elbows, Holtz army crawled through their cozy living room and to the far wall. Erin observed her as she wiggled across the floor to one of the tall bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, using her nose to turn titles on the second-to-last row. Finally finding what she was looking for, the odd blonde used her teeth to remove a somewhat thin, paperback anthology, using her mouth to carry it back and plop it in Erin’s lap, mumbling, “One-twenty-six.”

 

Knowing that the woman had a rolodex of a memory that only she could describe, Erin trusted that there was something important they’d shared together on the page. Clearing her throat, she noted it was an essay, rather than a poem that they usually shared by the author. Not recalling the one Holtz had in mind particularly well, she spoke it out loud, “They say that the world is a hard place, but no one mentions the gut wrenching, soul crushing, heart breaking pain it is to survive growing up.” She read on, the short paragraphs threatening to bring tears to her eyes as she closed it out at the end, “When did we start teaching our children that growing up is having to choose thousands of ways of breaking yourself in two?”

 

Holtz’s body was strewn across Erin’s lap after a long beat of silence. She stared hard at the fibers of the rug before quietly explaining in a near-shaky voice, “I’m sorry that your family made growing up so hard. And even if I’m not everything they’d dreamed up for you, I hope that I can make your time at home with them a little easier.”

 

Though they had an entire house they could have shared the tender moment in, Holtzmann and Erin wound up tangled on the hardwood floor, mouths connected in a heated kiss as they ignored the midnight call to bed.

 

Holtz was pressed to the floor again, on her back, blunt nails scraping along Erin’s hairline while the woman sucked on her neck and chest after unbuttoning the top row. “Erin?” Holtz sucked in a breath with her name causing her girlfriend to stop and sit up, chest heaving and pupils dilated. “Wow,” The blonde giggled, pushing herself into a sitting position, resting her forearms on her knees and shrugging. “I love you. Can we go snuggle somewhere that’s not hardwood? I’ll spare you the joke about my hard wood.”

 

With half a laugh, Erin bit her lip and stood up. Giving a devilish smirk, Holtz flipped over and put her palms on the carpet. Rolling her eyes, Erin knew what to do and picked up her ankles, wheelbarrow-walking them into the bedroom, where Holtz finished with a summersault into a standing position, pulling her pants down at the same time. When the burgundy pool of corduroy was on the floor along with her button-down top and sports bra that was beneath it, Erin made a similar pile before steering her into the luxurious master bathroom. They took their positions at their own sinks, brushing teeth, unpinning hair, washing faces — the usual nightly routine.

 

After tossing down the comforter, Holtz slid into bed with a contented groan at the sensation of mattress. Erin curled into her, kissing above her right breast and asking, “Is it okay if I’m super passive aggressive and don’t tell my parents for a few days that we’re coming?”

 

“Oh, for sure,” Holtz grinned in response, kissing the top of her head and stroking her shoulder with the lightest padding of her fingertips. “Make ‘em sweat.” She bit her earlobe, earning Erin’s groan before whispering huskily, “But not nearly as much as I’m going to make you sweat.”