“Your dog is chewing on my bed slippers!”
“Which ones?” Arian’s voice came from the bathroom, and Kendra rolled her eyes as she tried to wrestle the one good shoe out of Falcon’s mouth.
“The ones shaped like clogs.”
“Oh. I can buy you a new pair, anyway.”
She fell backwards, clutching the spit-ridden, chewed up mess that used to be her shoe, and tossed it to a corner of the living room. “Are you done yet?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Arian grumbled, pushing the door open with her hip as she towel-dried her hair. “Also, he is our dog. Remember, we bought him together after we moved in to this apartment?”
“How could I forget making the worst mistake of my life so far,” she retaliated, taking Arian’s place at the bathroom sink.
“What, moving in with me?”
“No, that stupid dog.”
“Falcon is not stupid! Right, boy?”
The puppy yapped from the living room and skidded into the corridor where his owner was standing. She picked him up, watching Kendra fix her hair in the bathroom mirror. Their eyes met through the reflection, and Kendra placed her hands on the sink’s edges, taking a deep breath.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Which part of ‘this’ are we talking about now?”
Turning around slowly, Kendra walked up to Arian and took the dog from her hands. “This whole business with having to talk to your parents. I mean, it’s not like they’ve spoken to you in years. Your aunt and uncle where the ones who helped us move in – not your sister, or your mum or your dad.”
Falcon whimpered and licked at Kendra’s face, missing her cheek for her chin and pawing at her collar bones. She screwed her eyes shut in mock-disgust and set him down on the floor, and he ran off, probably to find the ruined shoe.
“I know, I know. And I get that you’re concerned and whatever, but…I dunno. I feel like I have to do this. One last chance, you know?”
“Even if they say yes-”
“You’re still not forgiving them.”
Arian reached a hand up to Kendra’s hair and ran her fingers through it, making it stand up the way Kendra liked it to stay. She kissed the edge of Kendra’s nose and started to move toward the door, stopping only to grab her keys (car, apartment, and garage), wallet, and a manila white envelope sitting near the key-bowl. Mr and Mrs Klein read the fine print, and she sighed.
“You sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
“You have work to get to.”
“I could take the day off.”
“Let me do this alone.”
The door clicked open and Arian was half way out when Kendra called out to her again.
“You’ll be OK for tonight?”
Shooting her a sly grin, Arian stepped out onto the corridor. “Like I’d miss our own engagement party.”
“What are we doing at the park?”
Arian was staring up at the stars, her hands deep in her pockets. It was a clear night for the last day of the year – not a cloud anywhere, despite the constant warnings of rain. The moon was waning, and she felt Kendra’s impatience as she walked next to her.
“Why did you bring me to the park, on New Year’s Eve, an hour before we have to be at a gala dinner?”
“Relax, my boss won’t care that we’re late.”
Kendra was about to protest, saying that it wasn’t very wise to be late to her first official function as assistant lecturer in the Department of Literature, when Arian grabbed her hand and pointed at the swings.
“Remember our first date?”
“Of course,” her voice softened, her shoulders slackening. “Not really something I could forget, is it?”
“Well, let’s add a new memory to this place!” Arian grinned, digging into the lapels of her three-piece suit (she had insisted she wear a suit this year, now that nobody was breathing down her neck to wear a dress; truth be told, Kendra thought she definitely looked more than appealing in it).
She knew she should have seen what was coming from a mile away, but she didn’t register the thought until Arian was popping open a velvet box.
“Kendra Lawrence, you have been my reason for my happiness since that first day in the library. You are the only reason I’m the person I am today. You are the only person I could ever love, and I want to keep doing that ‘til the day I die, if you’d let me. So, if you’d do me the honour, please marry me?”
She swept her into a hug, almost losing the ring in the process, and kissed her, muttering ‘Yes’ between pecks on her girlfriend’s – fiancée’s – lips. Arian, laughing and almost crying, slipped the ring onto Kendra’s fingers, and as they both stared at the glittering stone, Kendra scoffed.
“You didn’t go down on one knee,” she teased, watching her fiancée’s face turn red.
“And ruin my pants?!”
“It better not be anybody about the election,” she heard her mother not-so-quietly mutter behind the closed, oak door. She looked down at her clothes one last time, hoping that she looked smart enough – good enough – for them. A chill ran down her spine when she heard the door unlock, and she straightened her back and clasped her hands behind it.
“Yes?” her mother began before she’d even gotten a look at her, then froze, her knuckles turning white as she grasped the door.
She was silent, her mouth pressed together in a thin line, her lips disappearing into a chalky white face.
“Can I come in?”
She moved aside, and Arian was afraid she was going to slam the door in her face, but she was allowed in, scraping the underside of her shoes against the welcome mat, walking towards the living room as if she hadn’t packed her bags and left years ago.
“Who is it, Farah?”
“It’s me, Daddy,” Arian called, turning into the living room and squaring herself in the door way, looking down at the man in the arm chair, his fingers half way through flipping the channel on the TV. He sat there, gaping, and Arian almost told him that he looked like a fly trap, but her mother suddenly appeared in her field of vision again.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“Coffee, with milk, please.”
“Since when do you drink coffee?” her father mumbled, looking to the screen and pressing the button, switching from one sports channel to the other (the difference between them, God only knew).
“Since the first year of my Masters degree.”
“You did a Masters?” her mother called as she clattered around with a spoon and a mug.
She sighed, turning her face towards the kitchen, connected to the living room by a simple door. “Yeah, in Medieval and Renaissance World Literature. I teach the subject now at the University.”
“That’s…very good, Arian.”
She smiled at her father, who seemed to be battling the urge to smile back. Eight years was a long time without seeing a person, she knew that.
Her mother returned to the kitchen with the coffee, handing it to her and sitting on the sofa near the TV. “I didn’t know if you wanted sugar.”
“Nah, no need for that,” and she sat down on the pouf she loved sitting on. When you still lived here, she had to remind herself.
“You look like a boy,” her mother remarked after several minutes of silence, punctuated only by the coffee becoming less and less.
“Don’t say that, Mum.” She wasn’t afraid of saying anything back anymore; her mother had lost her power over her the minute she had moved out of the house for good. “My hair is longer than it’s ever been -” Because Kendra likes long hair “- and I look smart. This is what I wear to work and my boss…well, Professor Whetherby, he loves it.”
No response came; her mother never took up arguments when the approval of authority came into the picture.
“Why are you here, Arian?” Sports were forgotten, and her father put the remote down on the coffee table. “You disappear for eight years -”
“I went to live with Aunt Rosie.”
“ – and you never once contacted us with any news.”
You didn’t want to know. “Well, you want news?”
“That would be nice,” her mother said softly, almost sadly, and for a second Arian almost wanted to hug her and promise that she wouldn’t ever pull a stupid stunt again. But she soon remembered the slap across the face that last time, when they had found out about Kendra – The Big Reveal, they both called it, with some joking to it – and quickly lost the urge.
“Well, I got a Masters degree and started teaching, I moved out of Aunt Rosie’s house about two months ago, I have a pet dog…”
“Sounds like you’re doing well for yourself!”
“Yeah, we are.”
She had enough time to set the empty mug on the counter before her father threw the remote whizzing past her head. Her first instinct, to keep her head low and apologize, was immediately overridden by her uncle’s voice in her head.
They can’t hurt you now.
“God damn it, Arian! We thought you’d grown out of that silly obsession you had with That Girl.”
“Excuse you,” she said, looking up at him through her hair, slowly straightening up. Treat them like wild animals, no sudden movements. “We’ve been together for years now, Dad. In fact, that’s what I came here to talk to you about.”
She took the envelope out of her pocket, and heard her mother hold back a sob before she’d even explained what it is. “We’re getting married, next year. I proposed on New Year’s Eve, and this is happening. And despite everything, I want you both, and Leila and whoever she’s dating right now, to come to the wedding.”
She set it down carefully on the coffee table, staring at the calligraphy as it swirled in her vision. Mr and Mrs Klein. Mr and Mrs. Mr and Mrs.
“We wouldn’t be caught dead at a…a…”
“You can say it, Mum. It’s not a dirty word. A lesbian wedding.”
“A wedding for sinners and faggots, that’s what it is,” her father spat, turning his face away from. “God damn it, Arian. Where did we go wrong?”
She felt the heat rise to her cheeks, and she was on her feet before she knew it, towering over him and brandishing a finger at his face.
“When you slapped me in the face and told me to leave! That’s when you went wrong, Dad! You disowned me and didn’t care what happened to me. Well guess what, I’m doing fine, and I’m doing it all without you. Or you!” she yelled, pointing at her mother and growling angrily as she turned around, tearing towards the door.
“You have one last chance to let me forgive you. Tell me you’ll come to the wedding, and-”
Through the ringing in her ears from her own yelling, she couldn’t tell if it had been her father or her mother who’d said that. But without saying another word, she’d ran to the front door and was in the front seat of her car without knowing how she got there, slamming her closed fists against the steering wheel and crying.
“I thought you quit smoking.”
She looked up at her fiancée, not even bothering to hide the cigarette, or the tears staining her cheeks. “Yeah, I thought I could afford just the one tonight.”
A warm blanket touched her shoulders as Kendra knelt down on the balcony floor next to her, wrapping the fabric around her with her own arms and resting her head on Arian’s shoulder. The spring sun, giving off the last of its warmth to their left, was slowly sinking behind the apartment complex opposite to theirs, and Arian was only now realizing how cold she’d been feeling. She leaned back, closing her eyes and taking one of Kendra’s hands into her own.
“How was work?”
“Are you avoiding the conversation?”
“Didn’t anybody ever tell you it was rude to answer a question with another question?”
Kendra laughed at their old joke, the one that had started years ago on a sunny day on campus, sitting on the grass between the library and the Engineering building.
“Work was fine. My boss said he’ll try and make it to the party tonight.”
“Mum and Dad aren’t coming.”
“I’m not surprised.”
She snuffed the cigarette out, kicking the stub away with the toe of her boots towards the edge of the balcony. Kendra was rubbing the back of her hand with her thumb, her breath warm and ticklish against Arian’s cheek.
“Are you upset?”
“About my parents? Not really. They made their views on the matter clear years ago; I don’t know why I thought they’d change.”
“Because they’re your family.”
“No, they’re not. Aunt Rosie and Uncle James are. And your parents. They’re my family.”
She paused, shuffling around to turn to look at Kendra, throwing the blanket over the both of them and pressing their foreheads together. The thought crossed her mind – briefly – that sitting that way reminded her of the first time they’d kissed, when they were twenty-one and still cautious. “And you. You’re my family. You’re the only family I’ll ever need.”
“Me and that dumb dog of ours.”
“You said he’s our dog!”
“Yeah, yeah; let’s not make a fuss out of the moment.”
“Well, that was fun.”
The last of the guests had left, trailing behind them confetti and empty plastic cups of Jack Daniels and J&B and whatever it was they’d taken a fancy to that night. Falcon had fallen asleep in his bed on his own – a first, since they usually had to coax him into it – and Arian had flopped onto their own double bed, kicking her heels off and closing her eyes.
“I’m so glad tomorrow’s a Sunday.”
“Yeah; you get the day off, I get the day off…”
“Wanna do something tomorrow?”
She felt the bed sink as Kendra sat next to her, a soft hand placed on her knee and the other coming up to stroke her cheek. “Does it involve moving out of bed? Coz I’d like to just stay in and pretend we’re already on our honeymoon, if I’m honest.”
Laughing, Arian opened her eyes and sat up, staring her fiancée right in the eyes, and shifting her gaze to the duvets.
“As you wish, the Future Mrs Lawrence-Klein.”
“I thought we decided on Mrs Klein-Lawrence.”
“Lawrence-Klein has a nicer ring to it.”
She kissed her, silencing her for a second before pushing her lightly onto her back. “Less talk, more pretend-honeymoon.”