As the weeks went on the evening wine dates became more and more frequent. Dinner between the two neighbours happened again the next month, Joan cooked another of her special meals that would only come out for special occasions.
Occasionally during their encounters Kate would kiss Joan’s cheek ever so slightly, just a brush of her lips against skin. Sometimes she would place her hand on Joan’s arm while they were laughing or saying goodbye. And other times she would lean in close and reach out with her fingertips to tuck a lock of stray hair back behind Joan’s ear.
Every time Joan would do her best to hold back a rapidly rising blush while she felt the rush in her stomach and the tingle on her skin from the touch of the younger woman. The tension was building between them and they were both enjoying the anticipation as it grew stronger with every dinner, every after work wine, even with their morning passing’s of each other on the street as Kate arrived home from her morning exercise while Joan was leaving for work.
The air grew colder at night and Kate finally had to settle with reading in her lounge room where she still had a decent view of Joan returning home from work. But as the nights passed, Joan missed seeing her neighbour sitting on her front porch, waiting for her to get home. She would look across the road longingly when she stepped out of her car, just for a moment, but Kate noticed even from through the lacy curtain that covered the window. Joan was missing her.
Joan returned home later than usual one night, her hair still in the tight bun and her tie still perfectly sitting around her neck. Her day had been a nightmare and all she wanted was to sit down on the veranda rocking chair and have a wine with Kate. She gazed across to where Kate should have been sitting, reading a book under the yellow light.
Suddenly she realized what she felt was loneliness as she looked across at the empty rocking chairs sitting beside each other with only the small table between them. “How odd,” she commented to herself, somewhat amused at the emotion she had not felt in decades.
Then she saw the lacy curtain across the road be pulled aside and the silhouette of Kate waved at her.
Before she even knew what she was doing Joan found herself on Kate’s doorstep, her neighbour standing in the hallway light with a small knitted blanket around her shoulders and the door held open for her.
“I-” Joan faltered as she looked down into the warm smile and green eyes sparkling with fire. She cleared her throat and straightened her suit jacket, suddenly uncomfortable with her actions as her conscious mind began to understand the implications. “I don’t know what drew me over here.”
“Come in for goodness sake,” Kate jibed with a giggle. “It was my wonderful wine that drew you over here.” Kate closed the door behind her friend that she had grown so fond of and led her through to the lounge room.
“Perhaps not just the wine,” Joan admitted as she felt the tension in her stomach start to fade. She took some time to look around as Kate walked through the joined dining room to the kitchen to fetch some glasses and a bottle. Shelving took up a whole wall in the lounge room and was almost completely filled with books. There were two arm chairs with their backs facing the window and a three seater lounge facing the arm chairs, all mismatched, overstuffed and looking like they had recently been reupholstered in a particular way to make them look odd, but not quite so much when you looked at them all together. Two lamps stood on either side of the window beside the arm chairs with an ivory lace curtain in the recess. Heavy drapes were pulled back on either side. “You have a fish?” Joan questioned as she noticed the round bowl holding a solitary orange fish on a side table beside the lounge.
“Yes, this is Ludo.” Kate replied with a smile as she returned to the lounge room, passing Joan a full glass of red.
“I miss you,” Joan blurted out before she could stop herself. All within a second she had felt the pang of loneliness, the ache for the company that she missed, and completely stupid for not being able to control herself. Her eyes hit the floor quickly as she realised what she had said.
“I’m right here Joan.” Kate reached out and took Joan’s free hand in her own and led her over to the three seater couch. Lifting one leg Kate sat down with her knee crooked up and her other leg hooked over her foot, with her hand still holding Joan’s tightly.
Joan felt a dryness in her throat and mouth as she knew she had already stuck her foot in it, she knew there was only one way to move forward from her slip of emotion only a few seconds before; the truth.“I miss seeing you on the porch at night when I return home.” Joan’s voice was almost a whisper as she felt her heart pound in her throat. She felt like a school girl confronting her first crush. “I know it’s silly, but driving home and seeing you there I always felt like I was welcome to come over.” She found that she could barely look Kate in the eye as her new found emotions got the better of her. Instead she looked at her hand which was still held by Kate’s whose nails were a dark shade of blue today Joan noticed.
“It’s getting colder outside and my shoulder plays up in the cold,” Kate smiled gently and was cautious not to laugh knowing that Joan was conquering a huge mental hurdle at that moment as she opened up and bared her vulnerabilities. “You are always welcome here, I told you that all those weeks ago. I’m always here for you.”
Joan’s hand was holding tight to Kate’s like it was a life raft and if she let go she might lose the courage that she was holding onto by the last wisps. “What is this Kate?” Her voice was nothing more than a whisper strained with emotion now, almost choking her up as the battle between her brain and her emotions continued. “What do you expect from me?”
“Expect from you?” Kate’s eyebrows raised high but she kept her voice calm as she repeated the question she had never anticipated. “Joan I don’t expect anything from you at all.” It was the truth and Kate hoped Joan could hear in her voice how sincere she was about that.
“I think there’s something wrong with me,” Joan blurted out as their eyes met one another’s for a second, but a second was all Joan could manage in the moment of openness. She had wondered for a long time, and the concern had always been there, since childhood, that perhaps she didn’t have a depth of emotion like most others and she seemed to show little to no empathy. In this moment, with Kate so close to her, she was afraid that if she wasn’t what Kate was expecting her to be that she would lose her. “I don’t feel emotions like other people do, I can’t empathize with people on a regular level.” Joan’s voice was a quiet whisper as she fought against the emotions that she could feel crawling up the back of her throat. “I’ll hurt you.”
Kate smiled warmly at her neighbour as they sat quietly with only a few inches between them. “I just want the opportunity to get to know you Joan; I’ve felt drawn to you in many different ways ever since I first laid eyes on you. I just want to chance to love you-”
“Love me?” Joan’s head snapped up and her black eyes held Kate’s bright green ones with burning intensity that seemed to make the room buzz with an eerie silence for a second.
It had slipped out before Kate even realised what she had said and now it was Kate’s turn to feel uncomfortable as Joan’s eyes met hers. She could feel the burn from them, it was almost as though they were piercing right through to her soul, and she couldn’t hold the contact as her face burned with embarrassment at letting that word slip in such a way. Kate looked down to the couch and at their hands still grasping each other. She hadn’t meant to say that, not like that. She knew her cheeks must have been blushing a bright red and her heart had suddenly jumped into the back of her mouth. She swallowed hard then raised her eyes back to Joan.
Joan’s black eyes were staring at her in a chilling way as long forgotten emotions from the past were dredged up inside her. “I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. I don’t want to lose you too.” Her deep voice was soft, bridging on tears as the reality hit her.
Kate softened instantly, her heart crying out to just let her love the woman sitting on the couch beside her. She was an enigma, wrapped in layers, covered in bubble wrap and protected by a prickle bush, and Kate just wanted in, no matter how many prickles she copped on the way. “You’ll never lose me Joan.”
Joan exhaled derisively. “They all say that, in the beginning.” Even with her doubt her voice was still soft and strained with emotion that had been suppressed for a long, long time.
“Unless you use me, abuse me, or kill me, I’ll always be here, loving you.”
“My own father couldn’t even love me,” Joan spoke before Kate had opened her mouth again. “What makes you think you can?”
Kate smiled genuinely at that and simply shrugged her shoulders as though it was the simplest thing and Joan should have realised from the start. “I’m not your father.”