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cherish is a word i use to describe

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i.

Coyote remembers dinners at the Hanson’s from when he was a kid. They were always grand, fancy, stark white. Filled with crystal glasses and china dishes, immaculate tablecloths and freshly lit candles, firm grips and harsh whispers when he would reach out to touch. He remembers the way his mom’s hand-me-down casserole dish would stick out against the white linens, surrounded by expensive serving dishes that held perfectly cooked roast beef. He remembers the way his mother would sink into her chair, poke at his father’s thigh under the table, do everything but count aloud the minutes until she could go home.

He also remembers that he always went away from those dinners feeling empty. Not because he didn’t eat--no, there was plenty of food--but because of the silence that enveloped the Hanson house. The coldness, the loneliness, the emptiness that he felt secondhand. It seemed like Mr. and Mrs. Hanson’s house always had people in it, an event going on or a room being renovated, but it somehow always felt empty at the same time.

That’s why, when he had initially heard the Hanson’s marriage was falling apart, he wasn’t surprised. In fact, he was only surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner. After all, how can a marriage survive in a place that’s incapable of housing life?

What was more surprising was the implosion of his own parents’ marriage. Their home had always been the opposite of empty, filled to the brim and bursting at the seams with love and laughter. There was never a dull day being a Bergstein, never a question of if he belonged or if his parents loved him. With them, he was full, content, welcomed back with open arms no matter how many dishes he broke or curfews he missed, no matter how many steps forward or back he took.

In his mind, he couldn’t picture his mother without his father. A Frankie without a Sol didn’t seem right, didn’t compute in his brain. Throughout his childhood they had been a team, a united front. The parents who cheered the loudest and clapped the hardest, sat in the front row for every school play and spelling bee. They made something out of nothing, and always put his art on the fridge, no matter how terrible it was (Art is subjective, son, his mother had said, And subjectively, this macaroni collage is pretty fuckin’ rad ).

Cut to now. An impossibility has played itself out, and his parents are no longer a unit. Rather, they’re separate, both living with the people whose emptiness had threatened to consume him from exposure all those years ago. And yet, Coyote thinks now, watching Grace beg and plead with his mother to let her back into their house, apologizing all over herself and showing every emotion he thought she was incapable of, he realizes that both of his parents homes are full. Even if they don’t include each other, even if they’re made with people who aren’t used to anything but emptiness.

Grace kisses his mother on the forehead, lingers for a second too long. His mother smiles at her with her whole face, ushering her inside and closing the doors while sticking her tongue out at him through the window. He has his hand poised to wave before she turns, getting enveloped in Grace’s arms as they make their way further inside.

Beside him, his siblings sleep, some from exhaustion and some as a result of an ebbing high. He sits back in his seat and listens to the ocean, listens to the laughter of Grace and his mother from inside the house.

He feels full.

ii.

It’s not that Sol feels guilty. It’s just that, well… Yeah, he feels guilty.

He loves Robert with his entire heart, loves the life they’ve made together, loves their routine and their home and their community. But in the back of his mind, especially now, watching Grace and Frankie alone together in this house, he can’t help but flashback to that night.

He sees his wife of 40 years, crushed by heartbreak. He sees Grace, closed off and more hurt than she’d ever care to let on. He sees his now husband, sitting up straight and confident in a way he had never seen before. He sees himself in the mirror, tired, haggard, free. Free from what, he thinks, besides a wife who did nothing but love him. A wife he loved hard in return, even if not in the way he should have.

The guilt pokes and prods at him, makes it so every other word in the two women’s direction is ‘sorry’. He’s not sorry for living his truth, not sorry for being able to live with the love of his life for eternity, but he is sorry, terribly so, for the pain he caused them. He’s sorry for pulling the rug out from under them, for bending the truth.

So he labels the boxes (perfectly, might he add). He may be a brown noser, according to Robert, but if it means making up bit by bit for the hurt and pain he caused, he’ll slap labels on vibrator boxes until his dying day. He’ll be Grace’s favorite student, if that’s what it takes for her to forgive him. Even if not now, even if not for a long time.

He brings up Phil and immediately regrets it, a wave of something he can’t place passing across Grace’s features. She shoulders him off and changes the subject to his retirement, but there’s something in the way she had said Frankie’s name moments earlier. Something in the warmth and familiarity when she talks about her that makes him wonder--makes him think about the time he got drunk at a bar 10 years ago and talked to the bartender about Robert for an hour and a half.

He keeps working, ponders what could be behind her reaction, wonders if Grace holds the missing piece for the love that he could never offer Frankie himself. In his mind, he can hear Robert telling him to butt out, so he does, even if all he wants to do is shove a rainbow flag in her face and ask her what she thinks.

If there’s one thing he knows, it’s that they’ll figure it out eventually. Realize in the same way he and Robert did, all those years ago. For now, though, he can take comfort in the fact that they’re not alone after all, that even after the chaos and the lies and the guilt, they have each other.

He breathes in, starts the next box, forgives himself.

iii.

Something about the way she carries herself is different now. It’s like she’s lighter, like a weight has been lifted from her shoulders. Robert had assumed after the divorce that he would be the only one to change, but looking at Grace now, it turns out that she’s not the same woman he was married to.

She’s better.

And sure, someone could say that it’s the haze of a marriage they were trapped in finally being lifted, or their newfound friendship clouding their senses, or the fact that she’s orgasmed more in the last three months than she did in their entire 40 years of marriage (he thinks really hard on the possibility of that last one), but it’s more than just the getting off.

It’s like for the first time in her life, Grace isn’t living alone. Like she has a real, honest-to-god partner for the first time--hell knows he was never much of one. Now, Grace has Frankie, and as much as Robert wishes he could have been that person for her, the only one who’s truly capable is the woman who’s taken residence in most of Grace and his conversations lately. Long talks that turn from Sol to the kids to retirement to Frankie over and over again, a smile pulling at Grace’s lips, contentedness making her posture change unconsciously.

His eyes narrow, trying to suss out whatever it is beneath the surface, and he takes in everything he can. The way Grace looks at Frankie, makes her order healthy options at restaurants, holds her back from trying to “save” dogs tied to lamp posts outside coffee shops. He watches as Frankie encourages Grace’s bad behavior, pushes her to treat herself, tells her when she’s holding the bong the wrong way.

It’s all quite surreal, if he’s being honest, watching his and his husband’s ex-wives unknowingly fall in love with each other. He would tell them if it wasn’t so fun to watch. But since it is, he’s content to sit back in his own gayness and watch his ex-wife discover hers. Hell, he’ll even make a bet with Sol about it, maybe make a few bucks.

He listens as Grace and Frankie fight about Del Taco, glances at his husband, files the information away for later. For now, he’ll continue to half ass the label business, knowing Sol is kissing enough ass for the both of them. He’ll listen to Frankie panic about the thought of being separated from Grace, think about what to do with his eventual betting wins, wonder where they’ll all go on their first gay couples’ vacation.

He smirks to himself. All in due time.

iv.

It’s not like he thought it would last.

If anything, Jacob’s pitch of Santa Fe to Frankie had been a last resort, a Hail Mary pass he hoped would score him the touchdown. After a year of being together he still felt second best, and if there was any way to become first in Frankie’s eyes, he wanted to try.

But then the stroke happens, and Grace swoops in like she owns the place. She’s calling the shots and fluffing the pillows and making friends with the hospital staff before he can get a word in edgewise, and he wonders why he’s even there, what his purpose is in this relationship. He’s not even Frankie’s emergency contact, he learns--Grace is.

Frankie had insisted her hesitancy to move was about the kids, the house, her life with them. It’s becoming more and more clear to Jacob, though, that Grace is more important to her than she lets on, more of a partner to her than even he is. They share a life together, one that’s more layered than they realize, but he's able to see it clearly. He sees it in Grace’s protectiveness and Frankie’s loyalty, in the way they talk about each other, the way they know each other.

He’s not mad, not surprised, he’s just.. tired. Tired because his love for Frankie isn’t enough, like nothing is enough when compared to Grace’s love for her. It’s because of this that he excuses himself from the studio, leaves them to argue about whatever it is they’re going to argue about. It’s not like he has a place there anymore, not like he ever really did.

The next day Frankie calls him, voice teary, and she breaks it off. She acts like it’s the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but for him there’s no real shock to the news. Frankie’s staying with Grace even if she won’t admit she’s staying for Grace, even if she blames it on her health, even if she truly believes that’s the reason why.

She’ll figure it out soon enough, he thinks, but by then he’ll be with his kids in Santa Fe, and Grace will be right there beside her, waiting. It makes sense, even if it stings-- hell, even though it hurts like a bitch. What would hurt more, though, would be to stay, wanting a woman who doesn’t even know what she wants.

He packs his bags, his boxes, carefully folds the nude portrait Frankie had painted of him after their first night together. He smiles to himself, remembers it fondly, puts it away. It’s bittersweet, leaving a life to start another without the woman he wanted at his side.

He hopes she finds what she wants, hopes she looks right next to her.

v.

“If Grandpa Rob and Grandpa Sol love each other,” Madison had said as they walked through the aisles of the grocery store, “do Grandma Grace and Frankie love each other, too?”

Distracted by deciding which cereal had the least amount of sugar, Mallory had replied with a simple, “Of course they do, sweet pea.”

Cue the confusion.

She gets a call from Madison’s teacher, who assures her that while most certainly not a problem at its core, Madison’s endless chatter about her gay grandparents is distracting from class time. She ends the call with a, “And congratulations to your mother, by the way!” which Mallory finds odd, before it clicks.

Her daughter thinks Frankie and her mother are a couple.

What’s more is that Mallory’s beginning to think that that observation isn’t totally off base. After all, they do share a life together, a business, a house. As if that’s not enough, there’s the near constant innuendo and her mother’s endless collection of collared shirts. She can’t blame Madison for thinking they’re together, because truth is that if she didn’t know better herself, she’d think the same thing.

Growing up, she can remember clearly her mother’s relationships with other women. They were always superficial and unimportant, the kind that greeted each other with two air kisses and a comment about weight loss or botox. They’d drink tea out in the backyard, have meaningless conversations about the PTA or their husbands, and every time Mallory could see more and more life being sucked out of her mother, her resolve wearing thin.

She doesn’t think her mom’s ever had a real friend until Frankie, but more than that she doesn’t think she’s ever had a real relationship. Sure, she had spent 40 years with her dad, but they always seemed more like colleagues--associates that met every few weeks to decide on allowances and what theme the Christmas card should be. Until Frankie, Mallory hadn’t even been sure her mother was capable of companionship with anything other than a bottle of vodka and a jar of olives.

So she doesn’t correct her daughter. Grandma Grace and Frankie sure as hell love each other, even if they don’t know it yet. And if that leads to a very confusing Grandparent’s Day at Madison’s school for her mother, then who cares?

Maybe she’ll learn something.

vi.

Alison goes into labor early and out of nowhere, waking Bud up in the middle of the night to show him the puddle around her feet. Luckily, he had expected as much, and he has the car loaded with their overnight bags before she can diagnose herself with preeclampsia. They’re on the freeway to the hospital, Alison doing lamaze in the passenger seat and digging her fingernails into his bicep so hard he thinks he may pass out. It’s as good a time as any, he thinks, to call his mother.

“Hello?” a sleepy voice answers.

“Grace?” Bud asks, confused. “Hi, sorry, did I call the wrong number?”

“No no, she’s right here,” there’s some rustling and the flick of a light switch. “She just sleeps like the dead,” Grace says as if it explains everything, even though it only raises more questions.

“Well, uh, Alison’s in labor, so we’re on our way to the hospital--”

There’s a sound like the phone got dropped on the floor, and a series of far away curses from what sounds like his mother. There’s more rustling, more obscenities, a panicked voice followed by a calmer one--what he can only assume is Grace talking his mother down from the proverbial ledge.

“Bud?” Grace says, out of breath as she picks up the phone again. “We’re on our way now, give us 30 minutes.”

“Oh, you really don’t have to, we’re fine--”

“It’s your mother,” Grace says, exasperated. “Don’t act like you or I have a choice in this.”

They arrive later in unintentionally color coordinated pajamas, arm in arm as his mom practically drags Grace through the hall. It looks like she’s packing supplies for some sort of ritual, and Grace looks like she’s about to hurl.

“Oh, sweetheart,” his mother says, wrapping him in a tight hug. “I drove as fast as I could.”

“She means it,” Grace says behind her, the color just starting to come back to her face.

His mom holds up two tote bags filled to the brim. “Where should I set up?”

“Set up..?” he trails off, making eye contact with Grace, who does a sweeping hand motion as if to say ‘don’t ask questions’. By the time it registers in his sleep deprived brain, she’s already moved on to find the room herself, and Grace is bent at the waist in front of him, breathing heavy.

“You good?” he asks, awkwardly standing with his hands toward her.

She stands up straight, fluffing her hair and smiling like she’s not going through the worst motion sickness of the century. She links her arm through his. “Let’s go have a baby, shall we?”

Nine hours and five falsely reported breech births from Alison later, his son is in his arms. It’s unreal, the feeling of holding a human being you helped create, and he’s overwhelmed with the feeling of love and responsibility. He looks at his mom, who’s standing impossibly close to Grace with tears in her eyes, Grace’s hand rubbing up and down across her back. He smiles, walking towards them slowly and carefully, as if the baby will break at the slightest uptick in motion.

“Meet your grandmoms,” he says mindlessly as he hands the baby off to his mother, and Grace watches him with a look he can’t quite place.

His mother runs her finger gently across the baby’s cheek, sniffling at the existence of her new grandson. “Jeez,” she says. “Isn’t he something?”

Grace doesn’t take her eyes off of his mom. “Sure is,” she says.

And just like that, Bud realizes.

vii.

It occurs to her that of all the things she’s ever seen her mother--drunk, high, angry, depressed--she’s never seen her like this. In her entire life, Brianna has never seen her mother in love. She briefly wonders what it feels like. She also wonders if she knows.

Because to Brianna it’s like, hella obvious. Hit you upside the head, stupid, ridiculous obvious. It’s becoming unbearable, watching them dance around it, like her head will explode the longer it takes for someone to balls up and kiss the other already. Which is even more stupid, because why the fuck does she care?

Except she can’t help it.

She cares because she loves Frankie, and she loves her mom, and something about them together makes so much sense. Makes her feel in some weird way that even if in different configurations, her family would be complete again. That and she thinks telling people her dad left her mom to marry his law partner and then her mother got together with her business partner who just happens to be said dad’s new husband’s ex-wife is a great way to gain interest and get laid. But that’s beside the point.

Her mom changes when Frankie’s around. She’s still a crusty semi-alcoholic with intimacy issues, sure, but she’s a happy semi-alcoholic with intimacy issues. She smiles at Brianna now, real smiles that mean something, ones she never saw back when she was a kid. She could count the number of times she’s ever seen her mother really and truly happy on one hand, and even that’s a stretch. Now, though, it’s different. It’s like her mother's been replaced by some eerily cheery new and improved version, and although weird as hell, it’s also comforting.

God, they’re dense. Frankie had thrown away a chance to move to the Frankiest city in the world with a smokin’ hot yam farmer to stay with her mom at the beach house, making vibrators for women on their second hips. Who does that unless they’re head over heels?

The drinking game her and her siblings had previously reserved only for Alison and her various ailments now extends to Frankie and her mom’s never-ending gayness. They all get shit-faced, minus Coyote, knocking them back every time her mother reaches out to touch Frankie, or when Frankie gets jealous of waiters at restaurants or cashiers at grocery stores. She's drunk 99 percent of the time now, Brianna realizes. She needs Frankie and her mom to come to terms with how in love they are for the sake of her liver, if nothing else.

But also, y’know, because they deserve to be happy. Because they deserve to be loved and supported, to feel safe with each other, to have a life together. They deserve to be in love, Brianna thinks, the way that her dad and Sol get to be. After all the heartache, it’s their turn, and she aches so badly for them to realize, not just for her sanity, but for theirs.

Christ, she’s going soft.

viii.

He calls another meeting with Grace. They never finished up on their date and she hasn’t taken his calls since, so Nick figures he’s got to renew her interest, pump up the volume, get the blood flowing. There’s something about her that he can’t help but want, and if there’s one thing he’s good at, it’s getting what he wants.

She arrives, fashionably late, with her concert-tee wearing lackey in tow. He narrows his eyes. Fine, he thinks, play it that way. He stands to greet them, pressing a lingering kiss to Grace’s cheek, which draws a half growl from the grey haired hippie. He smirks at her, nods once, and invites them to sit.

“Ladies,” he says. “Good to see you.”

Grace sits in the chair opposite him, and the other heads straight for the bowl of mixed nuts in the corner, picking out the cashews and popping them like pills. She’s restless, kicking at the legs of the conference table and fiddling with the strap of her purse. Grace makes eye contact with her, raising a brow as if to tell her to chill out. She gets the message and sits with a huff.

“So,” Grace says, turning back to him, “Why the meeting?”

“What,” he replies with a smirk, “I can’t just want to see you?”

There’s a loud scoff from the corner, followed by the crunching of nuts. He ignores it.

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” he says. “I want a take two. Another date. Preferably one that doesn’t end with you cruising away in my balloon without me.”

“Nick,” Grace says, leaning forward, her voice low, “are you propositioning me?”

“I don’t know,” he says, fingers itching to reach out, to touch her. “Is it working?”

A hand slams down on the table from the other side of the room, cashews flying everywhere, and the hippie approaches him at an alarmingly fast rate, stopping inches from his face.

“Listen here, DickFuck McGhee,” she says, poking him hard in the chest with one hand and pointing to Grace with the other. “That lady? Is my lady. So all this party banter bullcrap stops here.”

He chuckles. “Pardon?”

“Oh, don’t act like you don’t know, you diseased marmot.”

“Frankie, please,” Grace pleads. “I--”

And then just like that, the long haired hippie is kissing Grace square on the mouth, which he’d normally find to be a turn on if half of the pair didn’t annoy him so much. They break apart, and Grace looks up at her in a state of shock, fingers ghosting over her own lips at a loss for words.

The hippie turns back to face him. “Comprende, mi amigo?”

“Si,” he says, for fear that she’ll throttle him otherwise.

“Good,” she says, straightening up and grabbing Grace’s hand. “Now this one’s about to have an existential crisis, so we gotta find her a drink and a soft place to land, don’t we, Grace?”

Grace doesn’t speak, mouth opening and closing again with a click. The other woman pulls her up, dragging her out of the conference room without a word and leaving Nick alone with a floor covered in nuts.

At least they didn’t steal his balloon this time.

ix.

Grace breathes in, welcoming everyone and pointing them to the living room. She has a nervous feeling settling in her gut, and she could really use a drink. Too bad she had agreed with Frankie that a martini would be her reward for getting through this meeting with her sanity in tact. The things that woman talks her into.

A warm hand touches her shoulder. Speak of the devil.

“Breathe, girl,” Frankie says in her ear as the family sits down. “It’s your coming out party.”

“Can I cry if I want to?” Grace asks, voice trembling.

“You can cry if you want to,” Frankie says, patting her hip comfortingly.

“Okay, well,” she says, moving towards her family and clearing her throat. “Thank you all for being here today.”

“Why does it sound like she’s addressing the nation?” Brianna whispers to Mallory, who shrugs in response.

“Frankie and I have some news, and it’s,” she smiles at Frankie across the room, “it’s wonderful news.”

“Killer news,” Frankie agrees.

“Great news,” Grace breathes out, and she decides to rip the bandaid off, looking to Frankie for strength. “Frankie and I are... together. Romantically, together.”

She’s greeted with silence, and she automatically assumes the worst. They’re disgusted, they’re confused, they hate the idea of--

“Tell us something we don’t know,” Brianna says, finally, not looking up from her phone. “Like when’s the wedding.”

Grace’s eyes widen, and she looks to Frankie. “Did you…?”

“Hell no I didn’t!” Frankie says defensively. “Who have I even seen between now and last night, besides you and the mailman?”

Grace shrugs. “You disappear for hours at a time, Frankie, you could be meeting up with Michelle Obama for all I know.”

Frankie clutches at her heart. “You think that if I was meeting up with Michelle Obama for any reason I would be in the least bit quiet about it?” she asks, aghast. “For Christ’s sake, Hanson, do you know me at all?

Grace rolls her eyes. “For the love of god, Frankie, it was hypothetical.”

“And to think,” Frankie says as an aside to the rest of the family, “that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with this woman.”

This gets everyone’s attention, and Robert looks up so quick his neck almost snaps.

“Okay, I was joking,” Brianna says, shocked.

Grace huffs, crossing her arms. “We’re not just together. Frankie and I are--”

“We’re getting hitched!” Frankie finishes. “I got high and proposed with a Funyun. It was the most romantic gesture the attendants at the Pearl Street Chevron have ever seen.”

“What Frankie is trying to say,” Grace says, moving to stand by her fiancee, “is that we didn’t plan it, but… we’re getting married.”

The nervousness has now been replaced with pure giddiness, a joy she doesn’t think she’s ever felt before. She grins from ear to ear and swings her and Frankie’s hands between them. She feels like a teenager, telling her parents that she got asked to prom.

Coyote watches the two of them like he’s watching a tennis match, eyes flitting back and forth between them. Bud nods like nothing else would make sense, Mallory smiles to herself, and Sol gets his wallet out from his back pocket, pressing a twenty dollar bill into Robert’s palm. Brianna, for once, is at a loss for words.

“What, no comments from the peanut gallery?” Grace asks.

Still, no one says anything. Robert stands, though, pulling Grace into a sturdy hug.

“It’s about time,” he says.

x.


He’d gotten the call about a half hour ago, an angry neighbor going on and on about loud music in the middle of the night, the lack of respect for the neighborhood. He remembers the address from a burglary that had been reported a little over a year earlier, and decides to check it out. When he arrives, it’s to the sounds of the ocean and 90’s hip hop playing at a disturbingly high volume. He knocks on the front door.

"Oh, Officer Torres," the blonde greets him. "Is there a problem?"

She's wearing a silk robe tied tightly around herself with nothing underneath. Her hair is a mess and her mascara is running, and the inside of the house smells like a weedery.

"We've gotten some noise complaints from the neighbors, ma'am," he tells her. "I was asked to come out and make sure everything is A-OK."

"Oh," she says, "Yes, we're fine. It's our anniversary, is all."

He smiles. "Congratulations," he says. "May I ask... are you under the influence, ma'am?"

A voice sounds from inside the house. "Only the influence of eternal love and support!"

There's a pause.

"Also marijuana!"

The blonde rolls her eyes, looks at him apologetically. "We can turn down the music, officer."

"That would probably be for the best," he says. "Just to be safe, do you still happen to have a gun in the house?"

She shakes her head. "Don't need one anymore," she tells him.

She's less uptight now than he remembers, her eyes sparkling and demeanor less calloused. She looks happy, looks at peace. At peace, he thinks, except for the music that seems to have only gotten louder since his arrival.

"Frankie!" she yells into the house, "Turn the goddamn music down!"

"Fuck the police!" the voice replies.

"I am so, so sorry," the blonde says. "Just--one moment--"

She disappears behind the door, and a few second later the music stops, to whiny protests of what he assumes is her wife. She doesn't come back for a few minutes, and he begins to think she's forgotten he's there, before the front door flings back open to reveal her even more disheveled than before.

"Anything else I can do for you, officer?" she says, out of breath.

"No, ma'am. You have a good night," he tells her, turning to leave. Something makes him turn back, though, not able to help himself. "You and your wife are still adorable," he says.

The woman blushes, smiles, fiddles with the ring on her finger.

"Thank you."