The door closed and Grace immediately collapsed into the chair, her hand flying up to cover her mouth, simultaneously stopping the gasp and the sob that was threatening to spill out of her.
It was overwhelming.
Suddenly, everything was intensely overwhelming; Frankie, the possibility of being alone, the work she still had to do, Frankie, their ex-husbands still being in the house while her sense of stability was just ripped out from underneath her feet, Frankie.
She was crying.
She didn’t even know she was crying until Robert coughed, graciously and mercifully signalling his re-entry so that she could gather herself, making her swipe at her cheeks and feeling the wetness there. She straightened her back, picked up her glasses and busied herself with the labels.
His footsteps were careful as he approached her.
He placed a martini on the table and gently pushed it her way.
“Everything all right, kid?”
She suddenly thought back to their lives together, wondered if he had ever asked her that question before.
She sniffed, face stern. “You knew, huh?”
“For about an hour.” He stated. “She told me out on the terrace while we were -” He picked up a lonesome vibrator that hadn’t been boxed yet. “packing products.” He waved it around and then felt awkward and placed it back on the table.
Grace eyed the vibrator and then looked up at him.
For the first time since he entered the room, he noticed the smudged mascara underneath her eyes. He had only seen Grace cry a handful of times during their marriage, the most recent being the morning their daughters found out he was a gay philanderer. “Grace -”
“Why does this keep happening to me?” She suddenly asked, a laugh accidentally falling out as she avoided his eyes. “Is it that easy to leave me?”
“No.” He answered without hesitating. “It’s not.” He shook his head. “Trust me, it’s not.”
She looked up at him, surprised that she had actually gotten an answer. And a sincere one, at that. “Yeah, well.” She cleared her throat and stood.
Robert watched as the familiar played out in front of him: Grace building up her walls. It happened all the time when they were married. She’d let him in, show him a moment of vulnerability, beg him to speak to her, stay with her, be who she needed and then, when it was clear that he couldn’t do that for her, she’d build up her walls again, stronger and ever higher than before.
He watched as she straightened her shirt and grabbed her martini.
“She won’t go.” He tried. Something he had never done before.
She eyed him before running a hand through her hair, feigning indifference. “You can leave, if you want.” She said as she made her way over to the stairs. “I’ll finish up on my own.”
In the end, she decided to leave.
No matter what Grace’s feelings or worries or fears about the whole thing were, she left.
She wanted a bigger life and that bigger life did not involve Grace Hanson. That was simple, too. So how could she keep Frankie where she needed her most?
It wasn’t fair.
The morning of the move, Frankie came into her room.
She hadn’t gotten out of bed yet, wasn’t ready to see the pieces of Frankie that were already missing from their home.
She looked up from her phone, glasses perched on the edge of her nose.
“The kids are here.” Frankie stated.
“All right.” She nodded.
“They’re helping me pack. I procrastinated.” She smiled. “Like you said I would.”
Grace smiled back.
“Jacob will be here soon.”
“You’ll come down? Say goodbye?”
“Of course I’ll come down.”
“Okay, good. I just thought -”
“I’ll come down, Frankie.”
She stood in the doorway for a moment and Grace could see the wheels turning in her head.
So, she made the decision for her and threw the covers open, inviting her in.
“Oh, I shouldn’t.” She said as she made her way over. “The kids are working so hard in the studio, I really should go and help them.” She kicked off her clogs. “Mallory actually sent me up here to ask you if you had extra bubble wrap.”
“Are you done?”
Frankie cackled and hopped onto the bed, burying herself underneath the covers and stretching out beside Grace, her body as close to hers as she could possibly manage. “What are we reading? Watching? Oh, Grace,” Her eyes suddenly scanned the length of her body, realisation dawning on her. “You weren’t… I wasn’t interrupting your ‘alone time’, was I?”
Grace rolled her eyes. “I was doing the morning crossword on my phone.” She lowered the device. “See?”
“Well, isn’t that boring? Would’ve been better if you were watching porn.” She grabbed the phone and immediately typed ‘Funny llama videos’ into the YouTube search bar.
“Great, I wasn’t using that or anything.”
“Great!” Frankie repeated.
Grace shook her head, scooted down and turned on her side so that she was closer to the small screen.
Frankie was already laughing at a llama who kept spitting on a kid.
The video was disgusting so she turned her eyes onto the woman who was so close to her that if she happened to turn her head, their noses would touch.
She suddenly really wanted Frankie to turn her head.
She could smell Frankie’s hair, her natural deodorant, the joint she probably smoked with Brianna.
She could feel her entire body shake as she laughed, could see the glint in her eye, the laugh lines around her mouth. All of Grace’s favourite things, by the way.
The only other person Grace had made laugh before Frankie was Phil.
His laugh was genuine.
Robert had only given her pity laughs, and so did Mallory. Brianna didn’t even attempt to pretend that she found her mother amusing.
So, when she met Phil and he laughed his genuine laugh, the feeling made her warm from the inside out. She imagined it was the reason why stand-up comedians did what they did, why they risked embarrassment. They were chasing that feeling.
When she made Frankie laugh for the first time, post-enemy Frankie, she had almost forgotten what that feeling felt like. And Frankie made a show of it, her eyes would light up and her face would fill with joy, her whole body cackling along with her. It was better than it was with Phil. Being a source of Frankie’s happiness, whether she was the butt of the joke or not, was one of the most fulfilling emotions she had ever felt.
“I know I’m entertaining but you’re missing out on some good stuff, Grace.”
She threw her arm around Frankie’s middle, pulling her in even more, and rested her chin on her shoulder. “I’m going to miss you.” She said softly.
Frankie’s laugh died down and she touched Grace’s arm, turning her head, making their noses touch. She then leaned in, touching her forehead against Grace’s. “I know. I’m going to miss you, too, lady.” She pulled back a little so that she could look into her eyes. She smiled gently. “More than you’ll ever know.”
She opened her mouth to say something, to ask her to stay, to ask Frankie to choose her, to choose them and their home and their business and -
“Well, isn’t this cozy?”
They looked up to find Brianna standing at the door.
Grace pulled back a little, lifted her head from Frankie’s shoulder, retrieved her arm from around Frankie’s waist. Not all the way though, deciding to leave her palm on her stomach, considering that the duvet was covering them anyway. “Brianna, you volunteered to help?”
“Well, it was either this or babysit Mallory’s football team of kids, so.” She shrugged and then turned to Frankie. “Speaking of, Mallory sent me to get you and I find you participating in a spontaneous slumber party with my mother who still happens to be in pyjamas even though I’ve never seen her not dressed after sunrise before?”
“Your mother invited me into her bed and I couldn’t resist.” She said simply.
“While we’re stuck packing your life into boxes?”
“You could…” Frankie threw back the covers. “join us?”
Brianna eyed the spot. “No, thank you, I’m not five. I’m not going to crawl into my mommy’s bed.”
“Why not?” Grace questioned.
Brianna kicked off her heels. “Good point.”
Frankie squealed in excitement as Brianna climbed in, sandwiching her in between two people who were pretty high up on her list of favourite human beings.
“What are we watching? Please tell me it’s not porn.” She settled in. “Okay, fine, what kind of porn?”
“It’s not porn!” Grace said firmly.
“Your mom’s too vanilla.”
Grace pinched her where her hand still rested and Frankie cackled again.
“Anyways, moving past my mothers possibly vanilla sex life.” She took the phone out of Frankie’s hand.
“Your mother’s sex life is perfectly fine, thank you very much.”
“No, thank you, mommy.” Brianna didn’t look at her. “I do not need that information.” She handed the phone back to Frankie. “Watch this.” The excitement evident in her voice.
Grace watched as a grown man kicked another grown man in the balls for no apparent reason, making her daughter and the woman beside her laugh until they couldn’t breathe.
Grace shook her head in amusement at the two of them.
Suddenly, her other daughter was in the room, too. “Really?” She looked at the three of them.
“Oops.” Frankie brought the blankets up to her eyes. “We’ve been caught.”
“Should we make a break for it?” Brianna questioned.
“Nah, we can take her.”
“I can hear you.”
Bud walked into the room.
“Yes, by all means, come on in. My room has always been open to the public.” Grace said dryly.
Bud looked at all the women in the room. “Is there a party I wasn’t invited to?”
“Yes,” Brianna answered. “During all four years of high school.”
“Anyways,” Bud said loudly, refusing to engage her. “Mom, I came up here to let you know that Jacob is downstairs.
Frankie dropped the blanket, her smile fading a little. “Oh, okay. Thank you, Bud.”
Grace slowly removed her hand from her stomach, bringing it back into her own territory.
He nodded and left the room, Mallory following after him.
“Do you think Jacob has that special stash on him? The one he grows himself?” Brianna asked softly.
“Aren’t you high enough?”
“Oh, yes of course, mother.” She looked at Frankie who smiled and nodded. She immediately threw back the covers and ran out of the room, leaving her shoes behind.
“You made a great kid, you know that?”
“You mean the one who’s running down the stairs to acquire pot from your boyfriend?”
Frankie laughed. “Yeah, that one.” She looked up at her. “I guess I gotta go down.”
“Yeah.” She smiled softly. “I guess.”
“You’ll be all right?”
Frankie nodded and then followed Brianna’s path, opting to go shoeless, as well.
The room was suddenly quiet and her bed was suddenly empty, a stark contrast to just a few moments before.
She searched the sheets for her phone.
She closed all the tabs Brianna had somehow opened in such a short time, most of them dirty so that she could annoy Grace.
She opened up the crossword again.
She could do it.
She could go back to regular life after living through a welcomed chaos.
By the time she was showered and dressed, Bud, Coyote and Jacob were loading the last of Frankie’s many boxes onto the truck.
She slowly made her way downstairs and found the rest of the family watching her as she descended.
She hated it.
It was like they were all waiting for her to crack and break. Which she was planning on doing. Just in the comfort of darkness, with a closed door, an extra empty house and a bottle of vodka.
She approached the counter where Frankie was standing and handed over the clogs to her. “You might need these.” She said dryly. “I’ve heard Santa Fe is hot. Might burn your toes.”
“Right.” Frankie threw them to the floor and slipped them on. “What am I going to do without you? Who’s going to take care of me and my little toes?”
“Your boyfriend.” She answered as she walked away, shoving Brianna’s heels at her.
“Yeah but no one cares about my toes as much as you do.” She tried again.
Grace scoffed. “I think you’re mistaken.”
Frankie’s smile faded. “Grace.” Her voice was gentle. “Don’t do this.”
“What am I doing?” She swung open the freezer. Eyed the bottle of vodka but thought better of it, making a silent promise to pay it a visit later, and then opened the fridge, removing a low-fat yoghurt so that she didn’t seem suspicious.
“Don’t shut down when I’m about to leave.”
“No one’s shutting down. I’m here. I came down, as promised.”
“Hey, Brianna,” Mallory’s voice suddenly interrupted the tension. “Maybe we should go check up on the guys.”
“Why would we do that when things are just starting to get interesting in here?”
“Brianna!” Mallory snapped her fingers, motioning towards the backdoor.
“All right, all right, geez.” She slipped on her heels. “But I better be able to hear yelling from outside.” She gestured between Grace and Frankie. “I wanna at least have an idea about what went down when I’m getting the details from the two of you later.”
“There won’t be any yelling because there’s nothing to yell about.” Grace said as she grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl and a knife from the drawer.
“Your eerily calm tone says otherwise.”
Mallory grabbed her sisters arm and pulled her out of the kitchen, the door closing behind them.
Silence overtook the room again.
Frankie stood on the other side of the counter, watching as Grace sliced her banana.
“Will you talk to me?”
“What do you want to talk about?”
She deposited her slices into a bowl, finally looking up at the other woman as she tore open the cup of yoghurt.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe the complete one-eighty your mood just made? An hour ago, we were up in your room snuggling and now you’re giving me the cold shoulder while you murder that poor, defenceless banana! And don’t pretend that banana isn’t me, Grace, I can see it in your eyes.”
“I don’t know what you want from me, Frankie.” She placed the yoghurt on the counter. “How do you want me to act? Do you want me to go upstairs with you again and hold you and pretend like everything’s fine? Because I will do that. Do you want me to talk to you?”
“I’m doing that! Right now!” She yelled. “I give you what you want. All the time. I put jelly beans in your pancakes and I buy the groceries you like and I let you sleep in my bed and I talk about my feelings and I do all of these things, these things that push past my boundaries, because it’s you. It’s you and I want you to be happy. And still. Still it wasn’t -” She stopped. She couldn’t say it.
“Nothing.” She picked up the bowl of bananas, slammed the step that opened the bin and deposited the contents onto the already overflowing pile of trash. She threw the bowl onto the counter, looking up at Frankie as she watched the porcelain spin loudly on the surface.
The front door opened and Sol’s overly long, overly loose body came flying through, his signature smile plastered on his face. “Frankie! Are we late for the bon voyage?”
Robert closed the door behind them, briefly making eye contact with Grace as he joined the others in the kitchen. She looked away, leaning a hand against the counter. Robert looked between the two women, his smile fading as he read the room in a way his husband clearly wasn’t.
“I’m still super duper here, Sol.”
“Right.” He nodded, undeterred. “I just meant -”
“For fucks sake,” Frankie pushed away from the counter. “I know what you meant.” She mumbled as she walked over to Grace, grabbing her by the hand and shoving her into the pantry.
Grace went along with it, as she always did when it came to the woman who was closing the pantry doors and telling their ex-husbands to give them a minute.
Once again Robert held her eyes over Frankie’s shoulder.
And then it was dark.
Frankie pulled the lever that hung in between them, immediately illuminating her face again.
Grace had meant to update that light switch.
They were standing really close.
Grace was trying push her panic to the back of her mind, claustrophobia could sit this one out.
Frankie stepped forward and cupped her cheek.
Grace’s eyes immediately fluttered closed, leaning into the touch, her body betraying her.
Frankie took another step, leaned her forehead against hers.
They stayed like that for a while, breathing, existing in the closeness that they were about to lose.
“I have to do this.” She whispered.
Grace nodded. “I know.”
“I don’t want to wonder -”
“I’ll come back.”
“You have to call.” Grace demanded. “At least once a week.”
“I’ll call every second of every day.”
She laughed. “Twice a week with texts throughout the day.”Frankie pulled back, smiled as Grace opened her eyes. “Deal.”
Grace took her head between her hands and gently placed a kiss on her forehead. “Deal.”
She looked at Frankie for a moment, admiring the way her eyes sparkled beneath the light, swiped her cheek as a tear fell. Her own were mere seconds away from escaping. “This has to be my goodbye.” She said softly. “I can’t do it again. I can’t go -” She pointed her chin towards the doors.
“Okay.” Frankie chuckled for no particular reason as she wiped her eyes. “Yeah, okay.”
“I’ll see you?”
“Yeah,” Frankie nudged her, a tiny bit of her playfulness returning. “You will.”
They smiled at one another for a moment more.
Suddenly, the doors swung open, light invading their little hideout.
Grace took a step back, feeling caught.
A visibly apologetic Jacob stood on the other side, their families spread out in the kitchen behind him.
Grace wondered how much they had heard.
“Frankie,” He said gently. “If we don’t leave now, we’re going to hit traffic and I -”
“I know.” Frankie nodded. “I know how you feel about traffic.”
Frankie turned to her and Grace reached up to cup her cheek, smiling at her.
And then Grace dropped her hand and Frankie clasped her own hands together and said something along the lines of driving until the cows came home or at least until her ass fell asleep.
Grace watched as Jacob took her hand and led her Frankie away.
She stayed where she was as the family followed the happy couple out of the house, Mallory and Brianna glancing at her as their father ushered them out.
She listened as their voices grew more distant and then she couldn’t hear the happy chatter anymore.
She was alone.
Standing amongst the bread and the flour and the other groceries.
Frankie was surrounded by the people she loved and was on her way to move in with someone who loved her so much that he took her away just so that he could love her on his own.