There was a time not too many years ago when Frankie would have loved to live with Sol again. She knew from the moment Robert and Sol squared off against her and Grace over a tower of seafood that they’d never reclaim what they had as husband and wife, but there was something so comforting about Sol’s presence. He respected her spiritual practices without question, reinforced her beliefs about child-rearing without quibbles, oohed and aahed over her art.
“He gets me,” Frankie explained to Grace once, not long before they ended up in Walden Villas. The memory hurts when she places it on that timeline. There was so much she didn’t know.
“Oh, does he?” Grace had said lightly, in that infuriating way she could stay calm during an argument. She was annoyed that Sol had reopened the Sol-and-Frankie door by declaring her his soulmate, and she seemed hellbent on dispelling the possibility. Frankie regretted bringing it up. “For basically our whole marriage Robert tried extremely hard to be agreeable because it meant he didn’t have to engage in actual conversation about us.”
“That deeply sucks, but it was different with Sol and me,” Frankie tried to argue, but when she stopped to think about it, she realized she and Sol had had one million conversations about the world but hardly any that were entirely and solely about each other. She explained as much: maybe she and Sol weren’t soulmates. Maybe they were just universe friends.
“That sounds slightly more reasonable,” Grace said. “And if it makes you feel any better, I might argue with you a lot, but at least I think you’re an interesting person.”
“Oh!” Frankie said. She’d watched Grace’s face—felt the familiar burst of warmth as Frankie’s syllable turned into Grace’s smile. “You too.”
They didn’t talk then about how Grace had just compared herself to Frankie’s husband, maybe without thinking about it. And Frankie didn’t clarify out loud that she didn’t want to trade Grace for Sol. She missed him, but not enough to give up what she had with Grace and the beach and vibrators and the tricky freedom of old age. She could point to the exact location of home on a map. Still, she occasionally wondered what it would be like if she and Grace lived with Robert and Sol again. They were all happier people now. They could have new conversations, and when the guys inevitably did something disappointing, a little Grace-and-Frankie vs. Robert-and-Sol could be fun.
Now Frankie has her wish and can hardly remember why she ever wished it. The beach house is large, but it feels very crowded. She’s physically collided with Robert three times this week, once while holding an open takeout container. Every time Sol performatively clears his throat or addresses a Robert-directed comment to Carl (a dog) or sits at the kitchen island in the chair Grace usually sits in, Frankie wants to kill him. It isn’t all bad, though. Sol’s very good at preparing snacks that meet everyone’s dietary needs. Robert mixes excellent drinks. Interesting alliances form, like when the Hansons insist on playing the classical music station some evenings, and when the Bergsteins convince the Hansons to go out for hibachi. (“Why would I pay someone to throw food at me when I could just stay home with Frankie?” Grace asks, but by that point she’s already in the car. Frankie’s pretty sure she’s more susceptible to FOMO than she’d care to admit.) Life at the beach house—until the renovations are complete at Robert and Sol’s, anyway—is like a perpetual double date. It might be uncomfortably platonic, and there might be a lot of toxic history mixed in with the unconditional love, but there are worse alternatives out there.
This evening, however, the current state of affairs is the absolute worst.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Frankie says. “And you two are valentines.” She’s huddled beneath a blanket on the couch. Her statement is intended for Robert and Sol, the obtrusive presences on an adjacent piece of furniture.
“It’s Friday night,” adds Grace from her spot next to Frankie beneath the blanket.
“The weather’s great.” This from Frankie, who feels very warm. Grace has started to tremble next to her; Frankie scoots closer.
“You should go out and celebrate your incomprehensible love,” Grace says, just in case they haven’t made themselves clear. “You don’t want to spend Valentine’s Day staring at your ex-wives.” She reaches for Frankie’s hand. When Frankie finds it, it’s shaking. Frankie looks at Grace’s face, which is the picture of composed nonchalance.
“We just got back from being out,” Sol says, confused.
“We’re not much for Valentine’s Day,” says Robert. He’s got a couch cushion to himself on one the end of the sofa. Sol sits at the other end, with Carl between them.
“Yeah,” Sol says, a little smug. “We’re unconventional that way.”
Frankie thinks about the cash in the freezer. All the time Grace has had to spend meeting with Miriam, who’s helping with all the legal proceedings, and even helping with the divorce. She thinks about the three new Rise Up prototypes sucking all the qi out of the meditation room. She thinks about this afternoon, working with Grace on a blog comparing the Mini Ménage to the original. They’d cracked themselves up, but laughter could only do so much to drain the tension. “Unconventional,” she repeats. “Sure.”
Frankie lets herself think—like her brain has a door—about the thing that happened just seconds before Robert and Sol got back to the house. It was just a kiss, just a kiss under a blanket on a couch, a kiss brief as the answer to a yes/no question, a kiss and then the door opened and Robert and Sol were there and they were trapped.
Frankie should have known Robert and Sol wouldn’t un-trap them. Salvation comes in the form of an explosion: fireworks on the beach. Frankie visibly flinches when the popping sounds start. It isn't an act, but it is convenient.
“Those hooligans,” Robert says. “We ought to lodge a complaint with the—”
“No,” Grace and Frankie both say.
Grace snakes her arm around Frankie’s waist and drops her voice to a whisper. “We can go upstairs,” she says right into Frankie’s ear.
Everybody knows Grace’s bed is the only place Frankie feels safe when there are fireworks on the beach.
Frankie has to hand it to Grace—she doesn’t let fear slow her down. They reestablish a safe little distance between each other before Grace takes the blanket away and they stand up. It isn’t shame, Frankie thinks as they walk up the stairs in a delightfully abrupt departure. It’s having something for yourself, taking the time and space you need to grow.
“I thought they’d never leave,” Frankie says with a chuckle the moment Grace shuts the bedroom door behind them.
Grace laughs. “They didn’t.”
Grace is barely past the doorway when Frankie kisses her again, finally able to take her time. First kisses get a lot of attention, but a second kiss between two interesting people—that’s where the magic begins.