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the hardest hue to hold

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Celeste was just settling into her couch with a cup of tea after a long day of work when Jane showed up at her door. She had her hands shoved in her pockets, a sheepish smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. 

 

Jane’s face was warm with embarrassment. Ordinarily she would have gone to Madeline, but she’d been up in Tahoe for the past week and wouldn’t be back for another three days. As much as she liked Celeste, Jane often felt that she was intruding whenever she was at Celeste’s house. There were still some telltale signs that a husband was missing from the picture, a razor on the sink, the faint smell of cologne in Celeste’s bedroom. It made her feel guilty.

 

“I’m so sorry, I got locked out of my house,” Jane explained as Celeste pulled her in for a hug. Before Jane could apologise again, Celeste was already reassuring her that it was fine, that it was lonely with the boys in San Francisco with Mary Louise for the weekend. Ziggy was away from home too, so it seemed only natural for the two of them to spend some time together in an attempt to fill the void. Celeste was actually relieved to see her. Jane would be a lovely distraction from whatever nighttime anxieties awaited her.

 

“Can I get you anything? I have water, tea, coffee, Kool-Aid.” Celeste moved to the kitchen to fetch Jane a mug. “Feel free to sit down anywhere.”

 

Jane slowly settled onto one of the acrylic stools at the counter. “Tea sounds good.”

 

Soon they were both sipping tea from matching robin blue mugs at the counter. Celeste leaned against a wall and Jane huddled over her cup as if trying to make herself smaller. After a tense couple of minutes passed by, Celeste made the decision to take up a seat beside her. Jane flinched when she did so, though whether from Celeste’s proximity or the scraping of the chair legs against the floor was unknown to the both of them.

 

“I know a good locksmith and I’ll call him in the morning,” Celeste said. “I think it’s best if you stay here for the night.” She set down her empty cup, awaiting Jane’s response.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Only if you want to,” Celeste added, hoping it passed as nonchalant. She desperately wanted Jane to say yes, though she was reluctant to admit it.

 

Jane gave her one of those pensive stares, as if trying to interpret the meaning behind her invitation. Around her, Celeste felt as though she’d been laid bare for all the world to see. There weren’t any walls she could use to hide herself from Jane anymore.

 

“Yeah, sure. That’d be great, actually.” Jane paused for a moment before adding, “Thanks.”

 

Celeste just nodded. She took a sip of her tea, only to remember that it was empty. Relieved for a task to busy herself with, she reached for the nearby kettle and poured herself another cup.

 

“How’s work?” Jane asked. With a jolt, Celeste came back into herself, remembered that she’d just started a part-time job at a new law firm.

 

“It’s good, though I’ve been out of the loop for awhile,” Celeste replied, steeping a tea bag and watching it bob in the hot water. “I had no idea so much change was possible in just six years.” Truth be told, she’d been afraid that she wouldn’t be able to find work at all, despite how accomplished she had been before giving her career up. Not many companies were interested in hiring a middle-aged single mother, prestige and degree be damned.

 

“Yeah, I get that.” Jane gave her a sweet albeit pained smile. “I was going to be a lawyer too, you know, before. Sorry. I don’t know why I just brought that up.” She winced.

 

Celeste hadn’t pinned her as the type, though she could see it. “You have nothing to be sorry about. What were you studying?”

 

“Business law. Well, technically pre-law. I was thinking I’d head over to Los Angeles or San Francisco and find some work there once I graduated.” Jane’s posture relaxed involuntarily. “I was double-majoring in accounting and economics, but it’s funny how I don’t remember much of it. It’s like I was a totally different person and that life wasn’t mine at all.” She paused to finish the rest of her drink. “Anyways. That’s behind me now.”

 

“It doesn’t have to be,” Celeste said gently, though she understood. “But I know the feeling. I wasn’t very motivated to take up work again, to be frank. These past couple of years have been... difficult.” Celeste thumbed the handle of her mug, her gaze dropping down to the gleaming countertops. “Everything I had I gave to Perry, it was as if he owned all my thoughts and wants and needs. And now I can’t differentiate between what’s mine and what’s his.” Celeste forced a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

 

Jane didn’t know how to respond to that. It wasn’t the same for her, not to the same extent as Celeste, because she wasn’t married to Perry. But she’d experienced that loss of herself, years spent putting back together the remnants of her old life to no avail.

 

“Gosh, I got off-track,” Celeste said, looking a bit flustered as she played with a lock of her hair. “But I want you to know that you’re not alone and if you want, you can talk to me about anything.” 

 

“Thanks, I really appreciate that.” Jane was thankful that the conversation was over, even though it was a relief to get some things off her chest. “You’re super nice. Thank you, seriously.” Her words were an awkward series of staccatos that Jane wished she could smooth out, so that she could match the easy cadence of Celeste’s voice.

 

Celeste shook her head. “Oh, it’s nothing.”

 

It wasn’t nothing, but Jane didn’t contradict her. She also didn’t push away Celeste’s hand when it came to lay over hers, no objective or agenda behind it other than to soothe.