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Treehouse

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Donna’s heart, confronted with the sight of Cameron in the store, lurched so much it made her whole self shudder.

Abandoning her cart, she stepped forward. “Hi.”

Cameron was nervous and uncomfortable, but she was here.

“Some last minute shopping. I’m supposed to be flying to Tokyo.” Cameron waved around the pack of diapers she was holding, looked at it and quickly put it back on the shelf in disgust.

But she wasn’t getting on a plane to Tokyo. A tentative confidence washed over Donna. It wouldn’t do to get too confident, but Cameron was unsure and Donna knew she had her opening.

“Wait for me,” she said, urgent. “I’ll take the girls home - or I’ll call Gordon to come pick them up. We can talk.”

Cameron’s face ran the gamut right in front of Donna’s eyes. With each passing moment her chances increased. An angry no would be easy. Confusion was telling.

“There’s a diner a few doors down.”

“I will meet you there.” Trying to be breezy and affect normality.

Cameron nodded and left, abandoning her shopping, and Donna watched her recede hoping, but still not entirely sure, it wasn’t for the last time.

But Cameron was there when Donna marched into the diner a little later, having summoned Gordon and dispatched the girls.

“Thank you,” she whispered as she slid into the booth.

Cameron stared out the window but there wasn’t much to be distracted by in the quiet street.

“Did you want anything?”

“I’m dragging out this coffee.”

“Anything more substantial?”

“What did you want to say, Donna?”

So many things. Too many things.

Instead she ordered a coffee and by the time it was poured the edge had gone out of Cameron and she was gazing out the window again.

“I’ve missed you.” What else was there to say? But the intonation held more of a question. Should I have missed you? Is that enough to describe the aching hole in my life? Have you - could you have possibly - missed me?

Cameron’s gaze came back to Donna now and it was disconcerting but she struggled through it. A challenge, a reminder of everything that had passed between them.

An answer was not immediately forthcoming. Nor was any form of acknowledgment but Donna didn’t particularly expect one.

Perhaps it was enough just to be able to say it. And that Cameron was here.

They drank coffee, patrons came and went, Donna read a newspaper while Cameron watched the world passing by the window.

It was enough, to be in the same space together. That Donna had Cameron in her sights was a relief, a comfort. As the sky began to darken Donna worried that Cameron would bail but she didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry.

“We should go look at the city,” Cameron said, out of the blue but very much in line with what Donna had been hoping herself.

“Okay.”

They drove out to the hills and Cameron sat on the hood like she was in a movie. Donna watched her like she was, like everything about her was immortalized on film, projected twenty feet tall just for Donna to see, alone in a dark theater.

It seemed that maybe Cameron was watching the airplanes on their interlocking paths in and out of the city. So Donna sat next to her, leaning back whereas Cam was a tightly folded ball with her knees up and arms around her legs, eyes in the sky.

Donna didn’t know how to ask about it in a way that Cameron wouldn’t misunderstand. She still was not sure enough about Cameron’s mood. If there was a misunderstanding to be had, Cameron would find it.

“Is it bothering you?” she finally settled on.

“He didn’t get on a plane before. Now it’s my turn.”

Donna gave that some room. Then, “Won’t he be worried about you?”

“I think he knows.”

That was true, Tom knew the ephemeral nature of Cameron. Not as well as Donna herself, she thought. How the harder you tried to pin her down the easier she slipped through your grasp. Mercurial and quixotic.

Cameron took a deep breath. “I was making a new game.”

“You were?”

Cameron nodded. “I was trying to teach myself how to be a better person.”

“And how did that go?” Instantly Donna worried it was too jocular.

“Not all that great,” Cameron smiled. “The self-improvement. The game is amazing.”

“It’s a Cameron Howe original,” Donna was fond and a bit dreamy. “So of course it is.”

“I don’t know how helpful being a Cameron Howe original is,” Cameron admitted. “I get stuck. There’s just… so much.”

Cameron exploded her hands. There was that frustration in her voice, that lack of articulation hinting at something so monumental, something she could barely conceive of let alone put into words.

It never failed to sweep Donna off her feet, ready and willing and so eager to be whisked off into Cameron’s imagination. This was the fun part, the easy part, cresting the wave of possibility.

Donna didn’t want to think about the actual work it would take. Massaging Cameron’s vision into something possible, something even vaguely realistic. The ever present fear that this might be the one last straw that broke them when in fact that had happened so many times before. Each time the unbridled terror.

This reconciliation rested on the same tenuous ground. Donna hardly dared breath for fear Cameron might be revealed to be be a mirage, some sort of stress-induced hallucination, just the product of her fevered brain.

But Cameron was groping around in the dark for something and Donna wanted to provide it. “You’ll get there. With all of it.”

“I don’t know if I can. Not on my own. But I don’t play well with others, so…”

Self-awareness, at least, was in evidence. Along with the desire to improve on it.

“You just need the right others. And it’s okay…” Deep breath, “It’s okay if that isn’t me.”

Donna was in fact fairly convinced it wasn’t her. Not for lack of trying had they consistently proven it. And vice versa, that Cameron was not the person Donna needed either.

But some intangible force meant they were the people they wanted, needed in all the other shapes and forms. Whether they were history doomed to repeat itself or inching toward some solution, re-iterating each time, Donna couldn’t tell.

“I have the right people. I just need to be the right person.” Cameron was intently studying her twisting hands.

It felt like the olive branch Donna had been waiting for. That perhaps they could draw a line under the past. Perhaps now this was about working out how to move forward.

Cameron relaxed too. She lay back on the windscreen and it only took a few inches for Donna to be as well.

They lay side by side staring up at the sky, the barest dusting of stars to be seen against the darkness and the glow from below.

“What do you want to do?”

“What, ever?”

“Let’s go a bit shorter term. Now. Today. Tomorrow. Then we can tackle forever.”

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” Cameron said, sounding like she only just realized it.

“As long as I am around you always have somewhere to go,” Donna said forcefully.

“Are we going to go there now?”

Donna thought about that, as it seemed Cameron had intended. “We don’t need to go back to reality just yet.”

“Let’s be bums. Get a room somewhere.”

“Okay then.”

Donna signed into the motel, leaving Cameron in the car and feeling schoolgirlish in her excitement about it. Some sense of it being illicit - playing hooky from real life. Yet here she was trying, however bumbling, to negotiate the realest part of it.

“It’s not exactly luxurious,” she felt compelled to apologize to Cameron as she unlocked the door and led them in.

“I’ve stayed in worse. And far better.”

They surveyed the grey little room, the blue bedspread, frayed carpet.

Cameron investigated the minibar and tossed a bottle at Donna. Who slipped off her shoes and reclined on the bed. Then Cameron plunked herself down next to Donna, sat cross-legged, and began a game of “Remember that hotel where…” that lasted them a good while of reminiscing.

There was a warmth that filled Donna. “Mm, you should have come up to Diane’s house…”

“What was it like?” Cameron was lying on the bed now, chin on her hands, kicking her legs, watching Donna.

Donna felt herself glowing. “Just… like everything you dream of having. The picture book of success. I know a walk-in closet wouldn’t mean much to you… but God, the luxury of it. The indulgence.”

“It’s not indulgent to enjoy what you have. Or get what you want.” Cameron said it so sincerely. “You deserve it. Or would deserve it, if you had it.”

That seemed too much to grapple with. Sometimes there was such clarity but then it would fade. Or Cameron would hold to it and too tight.

Their plans, their desires… it was always ‘their’ but what that actually meant was generally unclear.

“I want you to come back.”

“You let me quit over six dollars a share.”

“Less,” Donna said, offhand as though correcting her daughters on a mistake. She noticed. “Sorry.”

But Cameron smiled and shook her head.

“I need to ring Gordon.”

Cameron nodded. “Pick something up from the vending machine.”

“All right.”

When Gordon answered the phone he was bleary and she realized, before he said it, that it was of course the middle of the night.

“I’m with Cameron.”

“Okay.” He waited patiently for something else.

“We drove out the city, so we are just going to stay here tonight.”

“It is late,” he agreed. There was a pause. She didn’t saying anything so he continued. “What’s going on, Donna?”

Donna noticed how tightly she was clutching the payphone. “I need to figure this out with her.”

“Yeah, you do. You… Donna, you do what you need. With Cameron, I mean.”

For a moment she really had no idea what he meant. But his words were so careful, though imprecise.

Oh, she thought.

He knew. How long had he known? “So go,” he said.

Donna hadn’t even really known. Other than that she always had. How tightly she and Cameron were bound together - it had always seemed a mystery to her. But it was no mystery at all.

Somehow Donna remembered to go to the vending machine and absentmindedly poked at a few buttons, surrendering the little change she had on her.

When she got back to the room she loitered just inside the door, keeping her distance.

“He okay?” Cameron asked, peeling open her candy.

“He’s… Gordon.”

“Right,” Cameron nodded along.

“It’s the middle of the night, apparently.”

“I suppose it is.” Such concerns meant little to Cameron.

“He was glad we are talking. He always says how important you are.”

Cameron raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“I mean… how important you are to me. It’s complicated, I know. But we can separate those things. Work and life. We don’t have to let them affect each other.”

“I do. It’s all the same thing, to me. I want it to be the same.”

“Well, okay, the opposite then. Let’s make it all the same thing.”

Donna knew what she was saying - or trying to say - but was confident Cameron did not.

Except that Cameron squinted over at her. “Okay.”

Still though, Donna could tell herself Cameron didn’t understand. She turned away and went toward the bathroom.

“I’m the same,” Cam said, voice raw.

Donna, back turned, smiled. “We should get some sleep.”

“Right.”

So she flicked off the light, quieting the static hum as well, and lay down on the bed. On her back, still on alert, Cameron stiff as a board next to her.

After being plunged into darkness the light started to emerge again, peeking in around the curtains and an emergency light glowing gently above the door. But Donna couldn’t look at Cameron now. She was too close and too cognizant of herself.

“I feel like I can breath again.”

And because a lot of that was Donna’s fault, and because Cameron looked so empty and alone when she said it, and because she wasn’t alone but with Donna in fact, and because Donna wanted to feel Cam breathe, and because breathing meant being alive and they were alive and on the cusp of something and because Donna wanted to commemorate that somehow… she reached out and Cameron reached back.

In the blue light of the motel room Donna stretched out her hand, Cameron looking unflinchingly back at her. Tucking hair behind Cam’s ear, Cam’s arm around her waist, their lips…

Donna took this great swell of need and want and gave it to Cameron in the only way she really knew how. Talking was still hard but the movement of her hands over Cameron, of her lips on Cameron, was easy. It was easy and unequivocal. To adore Cameron without the clumsiness of words.

“When I was little,” Cameron said, waxing nostalgic, “My dad and I, we built a treehouse. Our secret club. It was my place, just to be me.”

Donna propped herself up on an elbow to look down at Cameron, half under a sheet, hair all over the place, Donna's other hand lightly tracing over Cam's chest. “Is that what you want?”

“I think that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

“Then that’s what we will do.”