Who We Are Not

Disclaimer: Not a heck of a lot to disclaim here. This isn’t really erotica, but there are some graphic descriptions of sex between two consenting adult women. Before you go in expecting something else, however, let me repeat: this isn’t really erotica. In fact, it’s angsty. Lots and lots of angst. And some mild violence.


Feedback, as always, is appreciated and answered. E-mail me at meghan@meghanobrien.com

If you’re interested in reading either of my two novels, or just want a sneak peek at new short fiction and/or novellas, check out my Yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/meghanobrien/

Who We Are Not

By Meghan O’Brien

Kendra sat cross-legged on the cold ceramic tile of the master bathroom. Her forearms rested along her thighs, hands dangling limply over her knees. The floor was hard under her bottom and her eyes hurt.Ache, she corrected mentally. They ache. She closed them, acutely aware of the way her damp cheeks felt chilled and sensitive to the movement of air around her.

Why does Jess insist on keeping the house so cold? It must be sixty degrees in here.

Kendra stifled a sob at the thought, clapping one hand over her mouth to muffle the quiet noise. She opened her eyes and looked up at the closed bathroom door. She strained to hear her partner moving on the other side.

At that moment, there was a quiet knock on the door.


Jess’s voice was so broken, so raw. Kendra blinked as she stared at the door, feeling a sick tug in the pit of her belly that called her to go to Jess, to make sure that she was all right. The slight, stinging warmth of her cheek stopped her from doing so.

Kendra lifted a trembling hand to cover the side of her face, closing her eyes again. She didn’t answer.

She didn’t know what words to use.

“Kendra, I…” Jess paused, and then cleared her throat. Kendra heard a muffled noise and imagined that Jess was leaning heavily against the closed door. “Are you okay?” she asked after some time. She sounded as if she could barely get the question out.

Kendra kept her hand pressed against her cheek. “No,” she murmured. She had no particular desire to hurt Jess, but it was the truth. “I’m not.”

Jess didn’t respond. Kendra heard her lover’s retreat. She opened her mouth to call after Jess, but snapped it shut again, uncertain of what to say. She had already said so much.

“I can’t, Jess. Don’t even ask me, because I can’t. I won’t.”

Jess’s eyes flashed in irritation. “All I’m asking is that you do something about it. Stand up for yourself. Or turn down this new job.”

“No,” Kendra ground out. She gritted her teeth together and tried to ignore the pounding in her head. “No, I will not turn down this promotion. And I’m not willing to make waves about this. Just… trust me, okay? It’s fine. I can handle it.”

“I do trust you. It’s not you I don’t trust.” Jess squeezed her hands into tight fists at her sides, inhaling and then exhaling with barely controlled frustration. “Right now you’ve got to work with Kevin… what, once or twice a month? If you take the new position, you’ll be working with him every day. You’ll be traveling with him, for Christ’s sake.” Forestalling Kendra’s protest, she held up her hand. “You’ve got to accept that this is out of your control already. And it makes you miserable. No job is worth that.”

“But it’s the best job I’ve ever had!” Kendra said. “And this promotion… God, do you realize what it’ll mean for me? I’m not going to fuck things up for myself because of one asshole–“

“It’s just a job, honey. It’s more important that you’re happy… and safe. We don’t need the extra money that badly.” Jess’s voice rose to match Kendra’s intensity, but her eyes were wide and filled with naked panic. “Why are you making this into such a big deal?”

Kendra knew the look on Jess’s face — after seven years together she knew all of Jess’s moods and expressions — and she also knew that Jess was afraid that this argument was about to spiral out of control. She knew she should take a step back, slow down, but something about the words they had already exchanged made it impossible for her to obey her instincts.

Instead, Kendra snapped. Her nostrils flared as she exhaled, and she took a step closer to Jess so that they were standing toe-to-toe. “Because it is a big deal. It’s a very big deal to me.”

Kendra’s shoulders began to shake, only seconds before she dissolved into a fresh round of tears.

It should have never been as big a deal as it was now.


“Hey. I’m Kendra.”

The girl with the shaggy blonde hair tore her attention away from her intense study of the open notebook on her desk, turning nervous blue eyes to Kendra’s face. The lined sheet of paper she had been examining was blank, but that hadn’t stopped her from staring at it like it held the secrets of the universe.

Kendra suspected that the blonde was shy. She liked shy.

“Hey,” the girl answered. She swiveled her head and observed the half-empty auditorium as it slowly filled with students, wondering why Kendra had chosen to sit next to her, and then met Kendra’s eyes again. “I’m, uh… Jess.” Her fair skin flushed red, and she shifted in her chair to lean slightly away from Kendra.

Kendra grinned at the slight accent she could detect. The blonde’s voice was feminine, melodious, and it drove her on. “Hi, Jess. Where are you from?”

Jess glanced over her shoulder again, back at the empty seats in the rows behind them. When she turned back to Kendra, she was blushing harder. “Um… Georgia. Athens.”

“I love your accent,” Kendra said. Smooth. Confident.

Jess’s eyes went wide. “I… well, uh… thanks.”

By this point, Jess looked so unhinged that Kendra experienced a brief flash of fear that she had misjudged the girl’s sexuality. Nothing but the rosy glow of Jess’s cheeks and the slight dilation of her pupils suggested that she was enjoying Kendra’s flirtation. Kendra pushed back her brief moment of unease and pressed on.

“So how do you like the course so far?” Kendra asked, gesturing around at the now-buzzing auditorium. Introduction to Buddhist Studies. Not her first choice, but it helped free up her Fridays. As a freshman, Kendra’s schedule had been determined more by a desire for long weekends than any specific academic goal.

“It’s… interesting.” Jess shifted in her seat again, dropping her eyes to her notebook. The brunette’s presence made her uneasy in the most exciting way. She had absolutely no experience with flirting — inexplicable, yes, but she was almost sure Kendra was flirting — and she felt embarrassed by how obvious it must be.

Kendra resisted the urge to sigh. She glanced back at the doors in the rear of the auditorium and watched students trickle inside, wondering why she had picked the most timid girl of the two hundred in this lecture. An instinctive desire, she supposed, and not necessarily her smartest crush.

Deciding that she had nothing to lose, Kendra leaned close to the red-faced girl and ducked her face to capture anxious blue eyes. She quirked a kind grin. “Am I making you nervous, Jess?”

The blonde girl with the shaggy blonde hair and electric eyes released a rush of nervous laughter, finally meeting Kendra’s gaze with a brave smile. “You don’t even know,” she answered. She managed to hold Kendra’s warm look for long moments.

“Do you want me to sit somewhere else?” Kendra asked.

Jess hesitated, and then shook her head. “No.” It was the last thing she wanted.

They had their first date only six days later.


Jess stood with her face pressed against the bathroom door, her partner’s words echoing through her head. No, I’m not. Her fingers twitched where she had both hands pressed flat against the wood, beseeching. No, I’m not.

She had asked Kendra if she was okay and, no, she was not. Jess considered saying something else, but there was nothing else to say.

I’m not okay, either. But Jess couldn’t say that, so she pushed away from the bathroom door and stumbled across the carpet, intent on leaving the site of their fierce argument. She slipped out of the bedroom without a sound, even when all she wanted to do was grab the doorknob and slam the door open, tear at the hinges, push her fist through the wooden surface and howl with rage.

Her rational mind was not unaware of the sick irony of that impulse. Violence wouldn’t make her feel better; in fact, violence was what had her feeling as sick and low as she had ever been in her life.

Violence ruins things.

Jess walked to the kitchen.

She sat at the round oak table, on one of the chairs she and Kendra had picked out shortly after buying their house. It had been one of the cheaper dining sets in the store, but it was an exciting purchase. For their dining area, where they would eat the meals they prepared and talk about the lives they shared with one another. They had carted it home with pride.

Jess put her hands on the table, interlacing her fingers. She stared at her knuckles for a moment, as if gazing at something wholly separate from herself. She unfolded her hands and brought the right one up in front of her face. She stared at her fingers, the delicate lines that marked the palm, with unforgiving eyes.

Empty. Her entire body felt empty.


Jess showed up for their fourth date with a black eye.

Kendra gasped when she opened her dorm room door, stepping out into the hallway so she stood close to the blonde. Jess looked guarded, almost ashamed. She managed an embarrassed smile at Kendra, thrusting out her hand to offer the brunette two white tulips.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Jess mumbled.

Kendra wasn’t sure that she was really late, but she accepted the apology and the flowers with a grateful smile. Her lips parted and she reached out to touch Jess’s temple with a tender hand, wincing when the girl flinched at the motion. “Oh, honey, what happened?”

Jess shook her head, managing a wider smile in reaction to Kendra’s concern. “It’s nothing. Stupid. I managed to walk into the bunk bed when I got up to use the bathroom last night.”

The words rolled right off of Jess’s tongue, but Kendra discarded them without thought. “What really happened, Jess?”

Jess flinched again, this time taking a step back. She lowered the flowers she still held out to Kendra, and then her blue eyes. She shook her head. “I…” Hesitating a moment, she lifted her face and gave Kendra a tense, pleading look. “Look, did you still want to go to dinner?”

Kendra frowned. After a moment, she reached out and pulled Jess into her room, easing the door partially closed behind them. As Jess’s face turned red and she looked at the Albert Einstein poster on the wall, embarrassed, Kendra turned and raised an eyebrow at her roommate, Heather.

“Could I beg you to go to the lounge for a little while?” Kendra asked. “I’ll buy you pizza tomorrow night.”

Heather slammed her book shut without a word of protest. “Done,” she said, standing up and jamming her book into her bag. Slinging the bag over her shoulder, she walked to the door with a sympathetic smile to Kendra. “Pineapple.”

“Thanks, pal,” Kendra said.

When Heather left, Jess turned away from the wall and faced Kendra. She couldn’t stay here any longer, she’d decided, not with the way Kendra looked at her. She took a deep breath, laying the palm of her hand over her stomach. “Listen, I’m not feeling too well–“

Kendra stepped close to Jess and pulled the blonde into her arms. “Tell me, sweetheart. I care about you and I want to know what happened.”

Something broke inside of Jess. Her shoulders shook in a barely controlled sob and all thoughts of leaving Kendra’s room vanished. She brought her arms up around Kendra’s middle, returning her hug with unthinking ferocity. “Why?” she whispered.

“Why do I want to know?”

Jess shook her head. “Why do you care about me so much? I’m such a…”

Before Jess could finish her sentence, Kendra leaned forward and pressed her lips to the blonde girl’s. Jess closed her mouth in surprise, but leaned slightly into the contact. She released a quiet whimper as they lingered close to one another. Kendra pulled back after long moments, giving Jess a kind smile.

It was their first kiss.

“Don’t question me,” Kendra murmured. “I just care. Now tell me.”

The words came out so easily. “I went home this weekend to see my family,” Jess whispered. She stared at Kendra with wide eyes, breathing hard. She was stunned by the softness of Kendra’s lips. They were the first she’d ever felt against her own.

Kendra tipped her head to the side. “In Georgia?”

Jess gave her a miserable nod then, averting her gaze to the floor. “My dad and I had a… disagreement.”

Kendra bit her lip when she realized what Jess was trying to tell her. She touched Jess’s cheek with her fingertips, near the bruised skin under her right eye. “He hits you?”

Jess frowned, drawing her eyebrows together in quiet anger. She raised fierce blue eyes to Kendra’s face. “He used to hit me,” she said. “But not anymore. I’m not going back there… ever… again.”

Kendra nodded, pulling Jess tight against her body. “What about your mother?” she asked in a whisper. “What does she think about that?”

“She doesn’t,” Jess answered in a bitter voice. She pressed her face into Kendra’s neck, needing the comfort she found there. “He thinks for both of them.”

Kendra pulled away, lifting Jess’s face with a hand under her chin. She bit her lip, staring at the blonde’s eyebrows, her nose. She wanted to take away her pain. “May I kiss you again?”

Jess blushed bright red, but she couldn’t suppress an excited grin. Thoughts of her father faded away under Kendra’s heated gaze. “Yeah,” she said.

Pleased by the light in the blonde girl’s eyes — already resolving to put it there as often as possible — Kendra leaned in for their second kiss. This time she licked at Jess’s lips, teasing her until she parted her lips and allowed Kendra inside. The kiss was clumsy, awkward, teeth clashing and tongues battling. It took them minutes to find their rhythm, for Jess to learn how to kiss with her whole mouth, but Kendra guided her lover through the initiation with infinite patience.

During the second kiss Jess had ever experienced, the blonde girl began to fall in love.


In the bathroom, Kendra went over the argument again and again in her mind.

How did I end up here? She shifted on the bathroom floor, dropping her head into her hands. She kept her elbows planted on her knees and stared down at the cold, hard floor. How did we both end up here?

Jess had always been proud of her. She had always trusted her. Somehow, Kendra had lost track of that during their fight. Jess had always, always trusted her.

Why did I react so badly? Why did I… why did I say that to her?

Kendra felt sick, so she wrapped her curled her arms around her stomach and leaned forward where she sat. She glanced up at the white toilet bowl sitting only feet from where she leaned up against the bathtub, and for an instant she was certain that she would have to crawl forward and retch into it.

“I don’t want to fight about this,” Jess said. Pleaded. It had been more like pleading. “Kendra, you know I’m right. You know I’m not being unreasonable with this.”

But Kendra didn’t know that. At least, not when all she had wanted to do all day was tell Jess her good news. Now that news had them facing each other like combatants, sparring with their words.

If Kendra’s weapon was more finely honed than Jess’s in this, she didn’t notice. At that moment, all she noticed was the way Jess refused to look at the situation from her perspective.

“He’s not that bad,” Kendra said. “He’s… nothing. Stop focusing on Kevin and start thinking about me… about what this job will mean for me.”

“Stop focusing on him? He’s sexually harassing you!” Jess exploded. “You came home from work in tears three weeks ago! And now, just because they offered you a nice new job–“

Kendra forced her mind away from the memory, heart pounding in protest at the idea of following through with it. She wasn’t ready to revisit that dark moment.

She wondered where Jess had gone. She looked up at the bathroom door, blinking back tears.

It had been maybe five minutes since she heard Jess walk away. Five minutes felt impossibly long to Kendra, an eternity when she and Jess were fighting.

Longer in the aftermath of this particular fight.

I hope she didn’t leave. If I go out there and her car is gone…

Kendra swallowed. She closed her eyes as the knowledge of how much pain Jess had to be in washed over her. It superseded her own pain, rendered it insignificant. In an instant, she was no longer thinking of how she had been wronged, but rather how much she had hurt Jess.

She released a piteous moan, tightening her arms over her stomach. She wasn’t sure she’d ever felt so sick in her entire life. Her whole world felt like it had come untethered, like it was spinning out of control while she cowered on the floor. Kendra simultaneously wished for the comfort of Jess’s arms and despaired at the idea of facing her partner again.

They had both hurt each other so much.


Kendra pushed Jess back to lie against the mattress, her blonde head propped up on a pillow. She grinned down at her girlfriend, running hungry eyes over her white bra and panties.

“You’re so sexy,” Kendra husked.

Jess rolled her eyes, color rising on her cheeks. She thought about crossing her arms over her chest to shield herself from Kendra’s intensity. She didn’t, though, because it was that same intensity she was desperate to feel claiming her body.

“You’re the sexy one,” Jess murmured. She reached up and fingered a lock of Kendra’s brunette hair, giving the silky strands a gentle tug. “Kiss me.”

Kendra settled on top of Jess and gave her a long, thorough kiss, pushing her tongue inside of her mouth and allowing Jess to suck on it with a grateful moan. They lie entangled on the narrow bed in Kendra’s dorm room. Heather was visiting home for the weekend.

Jess relaxed into the kiss, feeling the nervous pounding of her heart recede as she tasted Kendra’s mouth. Kissing was something she could do; after six months with Kendra, she had the skill down. They practiced a lot.

Kendra’s hand found Jess’s breast, circling her stiff nipple through her cotton bra. Jess broke away from Kendra’s mouth with a gasp.

Kissing was second nature, but what came next made Jess very, very nervous.

“Are you okay, baby?” Kendra asked. She kept her hand on Jess’s breast, tracing circles around her nipple with her thumb. “If you’re not ready for this, tell me. I want you, but I’ll wait if you’ve got even the slightest doubt–“

Jess shook her head. “I want this,” she whispered. She could feel the wetness between her legs and worried that her reaction to Kendra’s touches was perhaps pathetically extreme. She could feel her juices running down the cleft of her buttocks. The slick flesh of her center felt heavy and swollen, and so, so ready. “I just hope…”

Kendra grinned, tracing the side of Jess’s face with her fingertips. She opened her mouth, wanting to assuage her lover’s nervousness. The words, now that they were here, felt natural. “I love you, you know.”

Jess blinked in surprise. Immediately her blue eyes welled with tears, a few of which spilled over onto her cheeks. “I love you,” she whispered. In a way, it was the scariest moment of her life.

Here, she was saying to Kendra. Take me. Now please don’t hurt me.

Kendra closed her eyes in acceptance of the gift. She knew what it had taken for Jess to give it. She leaned down and pressed her lips to Jess’s earlobe. “I’ll never hurt you,” she whispered, kissing the impossibly soft skin she found there. Kendra slid her hand down, pushing Jess’s bra up so she could cup her bare breast in her hand. “Ever.”


Still in the kitchen, lost in her jumbled memories, Jess thought about running away.

It would be so easy. Her keys were hanging next to the door to the garage. She was wearing her shoes, having never taken them off after work. She’d left a light corduroy jacket in her truck, so she really didn’t need to do anything except stand up and walk across the kitchen to escape.

She didn’t move, though. She knew that there was no escaping her pain.

And besides… Kendra would be furious with me.

Jess sobbed then, thinking that, and lowered her face to gaze down at her hands. They rested on the table, still and useless. She lifted the right one to hover inches above the wood, and then turned her hand over to stare at her palm again.

But Kendra is already furious with me. Jess closed her eyes and forced herself to accept the consequences of her actions. She may never trust me again.

She tried to recall the blinding rage she’d felt during the fight, when Kendra had hissed out her final, crushing verbal blow. She tried to remember what could have possibly incited her to strike back. Literally.

A monster lived inside of Jess.

It had lived there for as long as she could remember, way down deep in the pit of her belly. Sometimes she wondered if it was the same monster that had fueled her father’s rages, if that was what made his eyes go cold and empty when he would scream at her and her mother. She wondered if it was his monster that blacked her eye, or left welts on her back, or dislocated her shoulder when she was seven years old.

She thought that she had gotten her monster from her father. It had never been as ferocious as his, but it was there and she fought like hell to keep it docile.

But sometimes when Jess got angry, the monster came out.

She knew it and she had worked for years to learn how to control it, but sometimes the monster still got the better of her. When she hurt, she got angry. And when she was angry, she could lose herself.

They had been arguing about that asshole at Kendra’s company when it happened. Jess felt the monster exploding out of her at Kendra’s cruel words. They were words — only words — but they cut her like a knife. Feeling the resulting wound like a violent tear in her soul, Jess gave the monster free reign for one dangerous moment.

She realized her mistake the instant her open hand connected with Kendra’s face, so loud that they both jerked in surprise.

A tear dripped on the oak tabletop, and then two more. Jess lifted her face at the realization that she was crying and swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. She didn’t feel as if she deserved the release, so she forced her sorrow deep down inside.

Jess hated the monster. Even more, she hated herself.

I want to bleed.

It would be so easy. She looked at the kitchen counter, at the knife block next to the sink. She allowed herself to fantasize about the sharp blades in there for a minute or so, imagining how it would feel to draw the razor-sharp edge of one down the length of her arm. She was full of self-loathing and absolute, abject hatred for everything in the world except Kendra.

Except the woman I hurt.

Jess wanted to die.

Instead, she sat. She didn’t move. She didn’t go to the knives or the easy escape they promised. Kendra, after all, would be furious with her.


“She’s… awfully butch, isn’t she?”

Kendra laughed out loud at her mother’s words. Jess had short hair, but she wasn’t overly butch. Sometimes it was easier to laugh at her mother; sometimes Kendra felt like the alternative was to cry. “She’s not that butch, mom. Trust me.”

“She’s a physical therapist?” her mother asked. She leaned against the kitchen sink, holding a mug of coffee in her hand. One fingernail tap-tap-tapped against the rim in subtle disapproval.

“She’s going to be,” Kendra said. She paused a moment before adding, in a quiet voice, “She makes me happy, mom.”

Her mother opened her mouth to respond, but hesitated when Jess stepped out of the bathroom and back into the kitchen to rejoin them. “Would you like a refill, dear?” she asked Jess, tipping her head towards an empty mug that sat on the counter.

“No, thank you, ma’am,” Jess said. She was nervous around Kendra’s mother, and the last thing she wanted to do was keep running to the bathroom during their first meeting. “Any more and I’ll be up all night.”

Kendra’s mother raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing, bringing her mug back to her lips for a slow swallow. When she lowered her mug, she gave Kendra a bright smile. “Your sister is organizing a dinner for the Junior League. Apparently it will be their biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Jess gave her mother a polite nod as Kendra tensed her jaw and struggled not to roll her eyes. Dani was always doing something to endear herself to their mother. Kendra didn’t have that same knack.

“You must be thrilled,” Kendra said in a dry voice.

Her mother gave her an admonishing look. “Of course I am, darling. Dani’s doing so well down there in Austin, even with Steve working such long hours at the hospital. I would think you would be thrilled for her, too.”

Kendra met Jess’s gaze. Jess was perfectly aware of the rivalry between the sisters, and of how Kendra always felt as if she came in last place. She curled the corners of her mouth in a sympathetic smile. Kendra sighed and turned her eyes back to her mother.

“Mom, if I were thrilled every time Dani did something to make you happy, I’d have no time left to be miserable about the fact that you’re so disappointed by me.”

Her mother released a dismissive snort, waving away Kendra’s words without batting an eyelash. Jess, who had tensed at the sharp retort, was shocked by the way the older woman ignored Kendra’s obvious frustration.

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I’m not disappointed in you. And I don’t know what you’re getting so melodramatic about, anyway… God knows you’ve never worried about making me proud of you in the past.”

They were words — only words — but they wounded Kendra deeply.


Kendra grew up with words.

Quiet words, meant to warn. Subtle words, hinting at something deeper than was being said. Soft words that deceived. Clever words that manipulated. Sharp words that tore her apart.

Sometimes Kendra worried that she would never get away from the words. They were the only weapon at her disposal, many times, and as much as she hated to use them that way, it was hard to stop. When she was a teenager, entire wars had been waged in the Douglas household, fought with nothing but words and then, at times, icy silence.

Her mother had never laid a hand on her when she was growing up, but she had given Kendra enough words to leave her with a near-constant internal narrative that provided a rehashing of every insult, every insinuation, every put-down directed her way. She heard the words every day; at her job, looking in the mirror, working with Jess on some project at home. It was her nagging, self-doubting inner voice, and it sounded suspiciously like her mother.

“And so do I,” Kendra whispered. “Earlier, I… I sounded just like her.” She lowered her face into her hands, and then raked her fingers through her brunette hair and tugged hard at the roots. The bathroom air felt so cold on her bare arms, raising gooseflesh on her skin. “Why did I say that to her? I didn’t mean it… why did I say it?”

Kendra felt like the biggest asshole alive.

“I’m taking the job, end of discussion. You have no say in this. It’s my decision.”

Jess blinked and took a half-step backwards from their position standing toe-to-toe. Blue eyes shone with hurt. “I have no say in this?” she asked. Her voice rose in anger, though Kendra could see the struggle to control it all over Jess’s face. “What the fuck do you mean, I have no say? I thought we talked about things… together.”

Jess was yelling now. Kendra felt a flash of fury at the way this discussion had become another one of their epic clashes. She wished for the part where they both came to their senses and resolved things, usually about a half hour after a fight started, but she wasn’t ready to relinquish her position to get there.

They were talking about the best job she’d ever been offered. Jess just didn’t understand.

“It doesn’t sound to me like we’re ‘talking’ together here about anything. It sounds to me like you’re trying to tell me what to do,” Kendra spat.

“When have I ever told you what to do?” Jess asked. Her face was turning red, her eyebrows drawn together in anger. “What… do you think I’m some kind of asshole here? You think I’m out to force you to do things for no other reason than to exert power over you?”

Kendra took a deep breath and let loose, not even stopping to think about what she was about to say. “I think that you’re trying to control me just like your father controls your mother.”

Jess’s hand caught her hard across the face, so loud that she was more startled by the noise than the stinging of her flesh.

In the bathroom, Kendra rubbed the palm of her hand over her left cheek.

“I almost deserved that,” she whispered to nobody.

Kendra closed her eyes. Just like your father. The tears started to fall again and she pinned her eyes to the closed bathroom door. She wanted to leave the room and go find Jess, but she found that the strangest thing had happened.

Words had abandoned her.


The first time Jess really showed Kendra her temper, they were in traffic.

“Fucking assholes,” Jess growled. Her hands flexed on the steering wheel as she glowered through the front windshield.

Three lanes of vehicles snaked in front of them as far as they could see. About a half-mile away from where they sat in the third lane, the fourth lane to their right came to an end. Jess watched a handful of cars speed past them in that lane, choosing not to merge over until the very last minute. They had been watching those inconsiderate drivers ease on ahead of the rest of traffic for almost ten minutes.

“Fucking dickheads,” Jess said again. “Waiting until the last fucking minute to get over like that. I’m ready to jump out of this car and pull the next one out of the driver’s side window so I can beat him to death.”

Kendra chuckled at her lover’s exaggeration. “You’re right, they’re assholes. I wish they realized that it’s people like them who make traffic so bad in the first place.”

Jess grunted in acknowledgement, staring out the window with hatred in her eyes.

“Don’t be upset, honey,” Kendra said, laying her hand on Jess’s denim-covered thigh. “We’re not running too late and at the very least, we’re spending time together.”

Cold blue eyes flitted over to regard Kendra for a moment, and then returned to the road. “Don’t be upset? I told them that we’d be there at seven o’clock and it’s already quarter to. We’ll be at least fifteen minutes late even if these assholes decide to stop driving like morons.”

“So we’ll call them and tell them that we’re running a little late,” Kendra said. She squeezed Jess’s thigh, hoping to soothe her anger. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Well, it may not be to you, but it is to me,” Jess said. Just then, a green Ford Ranger breezed past them and neatly slid into their lane in front of the Jeep ahead of them, who hung back to let yet another car in after the Ranger. Jess released an angry noise and slammed her fist into her horn, honking at the Jeep and giving the driver the finger. “Come on, fuckhead! Stop letting everyone in and fucking move!”

Kendra swallowed and directed nervous eyes at the Jeep in front of them. When Jess eased off the brake so that her car crept within millimeters of the Jeep’s back bumper, Kendra spoke up. “Honey–“

“Move, motherfucker!” Jess shouted. The white car in front of the Jeep began moving forward, but the Jeep continued to lag behind. Jess checked in the rearview mirror, and then smacked her horn again. “What the fuck is wrong with this guy?”

“Jess, stop. Please.”

When the Jeep began to creep forward, Jess matched its pace, staying within scant inches from his bumper. The driver of the Jeep kept looking in his rearview mirror, obviously aware of Jess’s ire. Jess’s eye burned holes into the back of his head.

“Jess, please. Calm down, okay? It’s just traffic.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Jess exploded. First the asshole drivers, and now her girlfriend was scolding her. She felt herself losing control. “Who the fuck cares whether I’m calm or not?”

“I do,” Kendra said. She leaned back in her seat, uncomfortable with the way her lover was acting. Jess had never acted so angry before. “You’re giving me a headache. You’re also making this a lot more miserable than it has to be.”

Jess positively trembled with rage. “Just shut up, okay? The last thing I need is for you to make me feel bad about being irritated. Stop being such a bitch about this.”

Kendra recoiled at the words, for a moment unable to think of a response. Her chest hurt. “But–“

“I’m not talking about it anymore.”

“Jess, why are you–“

“I mean it, Kendra. Don’t talk to me. Just leave me alone.”


Dr. Barrett told Jess that counting worked. If she got mad — mad enough that she felt like she was losing control — she was supposed to count. Sometimes she counted to ten. More often, twenty-five. At her worst, she’d made it to two hundred and thirty seven before Kendra had apologized for something that hadn’t even been her fault, anyway.

Usually, counting worked.

Just like your father.

It hadn’t worked today with Kendra. Jess hadn’t even had time to remember talking about anger management with Dr. Barrett, let alone the strategies she was supposed to use. She had just reacted, tossing away a promise and possibly seven years with the love of her life all in an instant.

Sick of looking at the knives and the hanging car keys, Jess pushed up from the kitchen table and walked to the living room. She collapsed on the leather couch and brought her legs up beneath her, as she often did when she felt scared and vulnerable. She sat and looked out the window, moodily observing the raindrops that slid down the glass.

Four years of therapy, all rendered useless in one stupid moment. Jess wanted to curl up and cease to exist when she thought about it. Didn’t I promise her that I would try to learn how to control it? She tightened her hands into fists, digging her fingernails into her palms. I broke my promise. I probably just… how will she ever forgive me?

Genghis, ever faithful to Jess, jumped up onto the couch next to her and tried to climb in her lap in that guileless manner that all housecats possess. Jess reached out to pet him, freezing as she laid her right hand on his silky black coat.

That was the hand she had used to hit Kendra. To smack her right across the face.

Ignoring her instinct to pull back from petting Genghis, Jess instead left her hand on the cat’s back, gentle and calm. She stroked her fingers over his fur, measured and careful motions, until he began to purr loudly. She felt as if she were proving to herself that her hand could be used for something other than destruction, though she wasn’t sure that she felt better for knowing that.

“I’ve got you fooled, Genghis,” Jess murmured to the cat. Genghis perked up at her sudden voice, stepping onto her thigh so that he could lean up and rub his face against hers. Jess bit her lip at his naked affection, feeling wholly undeserving of it. “You have no idea what an asshole I am, do you?”

Genghis released a quiet chirping noise of pleasure, pushing his cold nose into her neck. Jess managed a shaky smile, even while feeling upset by the fresh wave of tears streaming from her eyes.

“Genghis, I’m the biggest asshole you know,” Jess whispered.


Jess could feel Kendra’s orgasm approaching, hot and musky and wet against her lips and nose. She pushed her tongue into Kendra, wrapping her arms tight around her thighs, and gasped when she felt Kendra slipping a finger inside of her pussy. Kendra’s tongue still laved Jess’s clit, and for a moment Jess wasn’t sure whether Kendra would come first or not.

Kendra rode Jess’s face as she kept up a frantic licking and fucking of her own, pounding her finger into Jess just the way she knew Jess liked it. She closed her eyes and groaned when Jess squeezed her buttocks with two large hands, pulling her cheeks apart and exposing her sensitive anus to the air.

Kendra was ready to come.

Jess sucked Kendra’s clit between her lips, batting at the swollen flesh with the tip of her tongue until Kendra jerked, crying out into Jess’s wetness, and came in a rush all over Jess’s face. The scent and feel of Kendra’s arousal painting her cheeks and chin and mouth pushed Jess over the edge fast, falling headlong into an orgasm that left her thighs trembling next to Kendra’s still-moving head.

Overcome, Jess pulled away from Kendra’s center first, gasping for air and begging for mercy. “I’m about to pass out.”

Kendra lifted her head from her task, also gasping. “Thank God. I need to stop, too.”

For a time, they didn’t move. Jess lie beneath Kendra, both hands on her partner’s bottom, staring up at familiar and beloved slick-pink flesh. Kendra rested on top of Jess, cheek pressed to a still-trembling thigh, breathing in the scent of Jess’s arousal with a grateful sigh.

“I love you,” Jess murmured. She traced her fingertips over the soft skin of Kendra’s ass, easing her way over to the crevice that began below the small of her back.

“I love you, too,” Kendra answered. She pressed her lips to Jess’s inner thigh, and then snaked her tongue out to taste a bit of the wetness that still painted her skin.

Jess groaned at the feeling, and then slipped her finger between Kendra’s buttocks so she could seek out the puckered skin of her anus. Locating it with her fingertip, she started a slow massage that had Kendra moving her hips over Jess’s face.

Just as Jess was about to lift her head to make a valiant effort to wring one last orgasm from her lover, Kendra pulled away and climbed off her body. “No way, sex machine,” Kendra said. “You’ve ravaged me thoroughly for tonight.”

Jess wore a beaming grin as Kendra turned around and settled back down on top of her body so that they were face-to-face. “Nothing but the best for my baby.”

Kendra directed a tender grin down on Jess, tucking blonde hair behind her ear. “That’s why I’ve got you, huh?”

Even in the dark, Kendra could see Jess roll her eyes. Delivering a poke to Jess’s side, she kept a playful frown on her face until Jess agreed.

“That’s right, baby. I’m nothing but the best.”

“I knew that,” Kendra whispered. “Happy anniversary, Jess.”

“Happy anniversary,” Jess whispered back. She pulled Kendra down for a long, slow kiss.

It was their third year.

When they broke their kiss, Kendra mumbled, “You’re my best friend. You know that, right?”

Jess nodded, not hesitating for even an instant. “I know that. And you’re mine.”

“I’m lucky to have you,” Kendra whispered.

“Even when I’m a jerk?” Jess asked. She managed a playful tone, but Kendra heard the seriousness behind the question. It came out of nowhere, but it didn’t surprise Kendra.

“You’re not the only one who can be a jerk in this relationship,” Kendra reminded her partner. She settled between Jess’s legs with a subtle wiggle of her hips, staring deep into blue eyes. “I have my jerky moments, too.”

“Just not as many as me,” Jess said.

The self-flagellation had been growing increasingly more common from Jess, intense now in the aftermath of some relatively recent verbal battles between the two of them. Nothing serious — nothing that wasn’t fixed only hours after they began — but bad enough that it left them both feeling rotten. And then there was the destructive rampage of a week earlier…

Kendra bit her lip, wanting to tread carefully. “I’ll admit,” she said, “I don’t like how we fight sometimes. I don’t like the anger. I don’t like how hard it can be to just talk things out without everything escalating out of control.”

Jess lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry I get out of control.”

“Hey,” Kendra said, lifting Jess’s face with gentle fingers beneath her chin. “Making it better will take effort from both of us. There are changes I need to make, too. Like… maybe giving you more space. Not forcing you to talk before you’ve calmed down.” She paused, trying to decide how to broach a topic that had been on her mind. “As for you… I like that we’re talking about it. Talking about it already makes it better, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Jess whispered. She placed the palm of her hand against Kendra’s cheek, savoring the soft skin beneath her fingers. “It’s hard, but… I like it, too.”

“So what do you think we can do about this?” Kendra asked. It wasn’t the idle chatter she normally preferred after lovemaking, but with Jess seemingly in the mood to talk about this, she was all too willing to go along. “Anything you need from me, sweetheart, just ask. I’m in this for the duration.”

Jess gave her am embarrassed shrug. “I’ve been thinking… maybe I’d try going to therapy. You know… talk to someone. About the way I… get mad.”

Kendra bent her head and gave Jess a solemn kiss on the lips. “I think that’s a great idea, baby. I know it bothers you… and I don’t want you feeling bad about it anymore. And… I don’t want to fight like that anymore, either.”

“When I won’t let things go,” Jess mumbled.

“Do you know that you’re practically perfect in every way?” Kendra said in a quiet voice. She sensed that her partner needed to hear it, and she was happy to oblige. She refused to focus on the negative. “So there are small flaws… you have yours, I have mine… but in the end, we’re perfect together, you know that?”

Jess’s tremulous smile warmed Kendra from the inside. “I know that. And I… I promise to do whatever it takes to be… more perfect. For both of us.” Jess blinked, and then met Kendra’s eyes with scared blue. “I just… don’t want to be like my father. Ever. I’d die if I ever turned out to be like him. You deserve better than that.”

“You’re not like him,” Kendra assured. And Jess wasn’t. Even when she got angry, she always apologized afterwards. She always made sure Kendra knew how much she loved her. “I promise, too. You’re nothing at all like him.”


After seven years, Kendra knew exactly how to hurt Jess. She’d known the exact words to utter, the threat to invoke, to crush Jess’s heart.

As much as she hated to admit it, Kendra had wanted to hurt Jess during their fight. It had only been a momentary impulse, borne of frustration, but it had cost them dearly. She had wanted to hurt Jess, and she did. Deeply.

It didn’t make Jess’s reaction right, but it did keep Kendra from feeling very self-righteous about what had happened. It drained all her anger away, leaving her absolutely numb.

For a moment, Kendra worried that there was no fixing the hurt they had caused one another that day.

But I know I have to try.

Kendra stood, pushing up with both hands planted against the bathtub. She winced as she straightened on shaky legs. The thought of facing Jess so soon after what happened terrified her, but she was sure that Jess wasn’t going to come to her. And Kendra worried. She worried about what Jess was thinking right now, about how much she had to be beating herself up. Kendra walked to the bathroom door and unlocked it with a trembling hand, easing it open and peering into their bedroom.

Her eyes fell on their bed, still wildly unmade from their lovemaking the night before.

“Fuck me, baby,” Kendra whimpered. She lie beneath Jess, legs spread wide to accommodate Jess’s solid body. Kendra gripped the straps of the leather harness Jess wore around her hips in her fists, trying to pull Jess harder into her with every thrust. “Fuck me. Fuck me.”

“I love you,” Jess gasped. Her hips pounded into Kendra. “You look so sexy… feel so good.”

A fat droplet of sweat rolled off of Jess’s forehead and splashed onto Kendra’s temple, and she came hard while staring into loving blue eyes.

Kendra shivered at the memory, stepping out of the bathroom and crossing her arms over her stomach. Her eyes moved from the mussed bed to the area of carpet at the foot of the bed, where they had argued only a half hour ago.

She raised her hand and pressed it against her cheek. Tears burned her eyes; anger and embarrassment and shame over the scene they had played out together, acting like people they were not. Kendra bit her lip and forced the tears back.

It wasn’t time to regret what they couldn’t change. It was time to be the people they really were. Together.


“Honey, I’m home!”

Kendra grinned at the loud bellow from Jess as she burst through the garage door. She knew her partner got a kick out of saying the words, even after almost six years together, and she found that they warmed her heart, as well.

“Just in time,” Kendra called out from the kitchen. She hurried to finish washing her hands, rinsing the peach-smelling soap from her skin under the faucet. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

Before Kendra could turn around, a strong arm wrapped around her middle and pulled her back into Jess’s warm body for a delicious hug. Jess eased her other arm around Kendra to present her with a single red rose, holding it in front of her nose until Kendra took it in a damp hand with a crooked grin.

“Special occasion?” Kendra murmured. She inhaled, smiling wide at the scent of the flower.

“Well, you haven’t gotten fed up with me yet,” Jess said. She pressed a kiss to Kendra’s earlobe, snaking her other arm around her middle and interlacing her fingers over Kendra’s belly button. “That’s pretty special, don’t you think?”

“Fed up with you?” Kendra asked. “Like that would be possible. Given that I fall in love with you a little more every day we’re together, I can’t imagine ever getting fed up with you.”

“Good,” Jess murmured. She stepped back but kept her arms looped around Kendra’s middle, allowing Kendra to turn within her embrace. Jess pressed her nose into Kendra’s neck and released a contented sigh. “I picked up some more muffins. You were almost out, right?” The low-fat bran were Kendra’s favorite and Jess made sure she never ran low.

“Right,” Kendra said. She grinned into Jess’s blonde hair. “You’re so good to me.”

“That’s because I love you.”

“God, Jess,” Kendra whispered. She squeezed her lover hard, grunting as Jess returned the hug. “I love you, too.”


Jess cradled Genghis in her arms and whispered a litany of her crimes into his ear. She started at the beginning, the first time she had ever yelled at Kendra, and moved on through various overreactions to stupid events that always ended with self-hatred and a numb emptiness that scared her to death. She pointed at a spot on the wall near the kitchen door, unremarkable to the naked eye, but Jess remembered repairing it after she put her fist through the drywall.

“I was so mad, Genghis. I didn’t even realize I’d hit the wall until I saw the hole… God, Kendra was so upset with me.” Jess leaned close to a furry ear, murmuring quiet, sad words. “I thought she would never forgive me, but she did. After I fixed the hole, she came in here and took me upstairs and made love to me until I cried.”

Genghis meowed at the sound of her voice, and Jess stroked his head with careless fingers. She kissed his fur, tightening her arms around his solid body as if this would be the last time she held him. In a way, she believed it might be.

“I told myself I would never physically lose control like that again,” Jess said. She stared at the wall, cheek pressed against black fur. “As bad as that was, though… I never dreamed I would ever touch Kendra in anger. I thought the wall was the worst I would ever get. That wall has been my motivation… to change. For all the good it’s done me.”

Genghis remained silent and still, as if aware of Jess’s pain.

“I guess maybe I am just like him, after all.”

Genghis lifted his head, perking up and swinging his calm gaze over to the area near the front door foyer. Jess’s stomach clenched at the sudden knowledge that Kendra was standing there, that she had emerged from the solitude of the bathroom, possibly to seek her out. Maybe she’ll want me to leave tonight, Jess thought. She wanted to believe that after seven years, it wouldn’t come to that, but she was sure she didn’t deserve anything more.

Jess bit her lip at the thought. She closed her eyes, unable to turn around and look at Kendra’s face. She felt Genghis jump off her lap, heard him run in Kendra’s direction, and she felt dizzy with fear at the quiet words Kendra used to greet him.

I won’t make this any harder on Kendra than it already is, Jess swore to herself. If she asks me to go, I’ll go. I won’t beg or plead or make promises I can’t keep. She rubbed her hands over her thighs, wiping her sweaty palms on the denim of her blue jeans. God, what if I fucked everything up tonight? I don’t even know how it happened, and now–


At the sound of Kendra’s voice, Jess’s resolve crumbled. There was no being stoic and brave, not now that the moment of truth had arrived. Abject terror filled her entire body. She opened tear-filled eyes and swung her gaze around to Kendra, who stared at her with an expression of naked sorrow. Tears streamed from Jess’s eyes and her nose began to run.

I’m sorry. Jess wanted to tell Kendra, but her mouth refused to make the words. I’m sorry and I love you and I would rather die than hurt you. She swallowed hard, dropping her gaze from Kendra’s. It was too difficult to look into familiar eyes. I hate myself when I’m my father.

“Jess, baby.” The couch sank in a little as Kendra sat down next to Jess, who stared at the floor, ashamed. “Baby, look at me. Please. We need to talk about… what just happened.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Jess somehow managed to ask. Her voice sounded rough and foreign to her own ears. She sat with her back bent as she waited for an answer.

Kendra hesitated. Jess’s heart felt like it was dying, and Kendra hesitated. After a moment, Kendra whispered, “Do you… want to leave?”

It took every ounce of her willpower, but Jess lifted her eyes to Kendra’s face. “No,” she admitted. “But I understand if you want me to go.”

Kendra bit her lip, blinking away tears. “I don’t want you to go,” she whispered in a broken voice.

Jess managed to lift her eyes to Kendra’s face. “Kendra, I’m…” Jess hiccupped, and then released a loud sob. With that, the dam broke. “I’m so, so sorry. I… I won’t blame you if… if… you can never really forgive me for this. I know sorry isn’t good enough, but I am. So, so sorry.”

“I know,” Kendra said. Tears streamed from her eyes now, a steady torrent that painted her cheeks with her sadness. “I’m sorry, too. What I said to you… it was cruel. I said it to hurt you. And I did. Can you forgive me?”

Jess’s sobs grew more uncontrolled. She turned on the couch and faced away from Kendra, curling her body inwards as if to protect her vulnerable middle. “Don’t say that to me. I hit you! Don’t you dare ask me to forgive you.”

And then Kendra’s arms were around her, pulling her into a tender embrace. Jess jerked away from the warmth of her body, too ashamed to even be touched. Kendra held on tight.

When Jess realized that Kendra was going to hang on no matter what, she found that she had no fight left. “Oh, God, Kendra,” Jess wept, turning in her partner’s arms so she could wrap her arms around her middle and bury her face in Kendra’s shoulder. “Please… please don’t leave me. I’m so, so sorry. So sorry. Please don’t… don’t leave me alone. I n-need you. So much. Please, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Jess was out of control. Aware of it, but wholly out of control. The thought panicked her — she wasn’t supposed to lose control anymore — and she gasped for air through her racking sobs. She felt sick to her stomach, desperate to reign in her emotions. She choked on her tears, overcome with self-hatred.

Through it all, Kendra kept up a gentle rocking as she held Jess in strong arms. She whispered quiet words into Jess’s ear, a loving refrain that broke Jess out of her self-induced hysteria.

“I forgive you, baby. I forgive you. Do you forgive me? Can you forgive me, Jess?”

Finally forcing a tight lid on her emotions, Jess pulled away from Kendra and looked up into red-rimmed eyes. Kendra’s face was as wet with tears as her own; her gaze reflected the same pain she felt. “For what?” Jess asked. The fair skin of Kendra’s cheek was still tinged light pink where Jess’s hand had connected. Biting her lip, Jess reached out and let the palm of the offending hand hover over the fading mark. “I hit you, sweetheart. Nothing you could do or say would ever excuse that.”

“I agree,” Kendra murmured. When Jess tried to lower her hand at the words, Kendra reached up and captured it in her own, moving them until Jess’s palm cradled the side of Kendra’s face. “I’m not excusing it. You hit me and that can never, ever happen again. Do you understand me?”

Jess gave her a miserable nod. “But what if…”

When Jess didn’t finish her sentence, Kendra prompted, “But what?”

“What if I… screw up again? I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. I already promised… that I would change. And I broke that promise.”

“You didn’t break your promise,” Kendra said. She kept her hand over Jess’s, which was pressed against her injured cheek. “You just slipped. You’re human. You slipped.”

Jess tilted her head, breaking their shared gaze. “This was more than just a slip. You’ve given me so many chances, and I just…” She bit her lip hard, wincing when she tasted blood. Immediately Kendra brought her thumb up to press against Jess’s lip and she frowned and shook her head. Jess licked the blood from her lip and said, “You were right. I am… just like him.”

“No,” Kendra said. Her voice was stronger now, almost loud in the near-silent living room. “No, you’re nothing at all like him. You have changed. You’re so much better now than you were four years ago, three years ago… last year. You’re a work in progress, honey, and you’re not anything like your father.”

“Maybe I got better, but… I hit you, Kendra. For real.” Jess stared at the creamy skin of Kendra’s throat. “I don’t know how to go on from here. I feel like everything I’ve done… all those sessions with Dr. Barrett… it doesn’t matter. I hit you.”

“You’ve never gotten physical with me before,” Kendra commented in a quiet voice. “I… it was a surprise, I’ll admit. I really hurt you.”

Jess closed her eyes and struggled to recall the last moments of the fight before her final blow. Just like your father. Her cheeks flooded with heat and she shrugged her shoulders. “But you were right.”

Kendra reached up and cradled Jess’s face in her hands. She didn’t speak until Jess opened her eyes. “Jess, you are not your father. And I hate that I ever said that to you. I was angry because I wanted that stupid job and I was upset about Kevin — about the fact that the situation with him is making everything so hard for me — and I lashed out at you. I wanted you to just congratulate me and… be proud of me. But you didn’t, and it hurt, and I wanted to hurt you back.”

“Kendra, I am proud of you. I’m always proud of you. And you can take that job–“

“Forget about the job right now.” Kendra put her fingers to Jess’s lips to stop her talking. “You shouldn’t have hit me, but I hurt you just as much as you hurt me. Maybe more.”

Jess wiped the back of her hand across her face, trying to dry some of the wetness that soaked her skin. “I hate my father,” she hissed in a quiet voice. “I hate that he did this to me.”

Kendra pulled Jess into another tight hug. She whispered into Jess’s ear, quiet and intense. “Listen to me. You are not your father. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you treat me like a queen. The other one percent… even then, Jess, I know that you love me. And I know that even when you’re angry… it’ll flare up and burn out and you’re still my Jess. You’re still my best friend and the love of my life.”

“But I hit–“

“You did,” Kendra said. “It’s over. You won’t do it again, will you?”

“I’d rather die ,” Jess said. “I never… ever… want to do that again. I’m going to call Dr. Barrett and I’m going to have some more sessions and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure–“

“I know you will, baby,” Kendra murmured. She tightened her arms around Jess. “Thank you.”

Jess cleared her throat and sniffed through her tears. “You deserve… more.”

“So do you,” Kendra said. She pressed a soft kiss to Jess’s temple. “Now will you forgive me for what I said? I’m not blameless in this. I knew your weakness — your fear — and I used it against you during an argument. That was so very, very wrong. I am sorry, honey, and I hope… I hope you can forgive me.”

“I forgive you,” Jess whispered. She almost didn’t feel worthy of granting the apology, but she knew what it meant to Kendra. “It… did hurt me. But I forgive you.”

“I… I don’t want to use words like that anymore. To hurt you. To fuck with your emotions.” Kendra released a long, shaky sigh, and then pulled back to look in Jess’s eyes. “I don’t like that I do that sometimes. I don’t like… how it makes me feel.”

“Empty inside,” Jess guessed.

Kendra nodded, continuing to rock Jess back and forth. “Yeah. Empty.” She met Jess’s eyes. “I’m not perfect, either. I have my… demons, too.”

“You’re perfect for me,” Jess said. It was a familiar line, and it brought an immediate smile to Kendra’s face.

“You’re perfect for me, too,” Kendra murmured.

Jess hesitated, considering a moment, and stroked her hand over the small of Kendra’s back. It was the first casual touch she had allowed herself since Kendra had entered the room. “Do you want… maybe sometime you could go with me to see Dr. Barrett,” Jess said. “We could talk to her about how we… fight. I mean… if you want.”

Kendra gave Jess a slow nod, a flicker of fear flashing in her eyes. “Yes. But I’m… scared.”

“It is scary,” Jess said. She stroked her hand over Kendra’s cheek, tracing gentle patterns over pale skin with her fingertips. “But it’s less scary than worrying about… who you might become.”

Kendra nodded again at that. She closed her eyes, causing yet more tears to leak from them and roll down her cheeks. “I agree,” she whispered.

For an instant Jess was afraid to say the words, but she forced her fear under control. If the words were ever important, it was in that moment. “I love you, Kendra.”

“God, Jess, I love you, too.”

Kendra opened her eyes as she whispered the words, revealing the same unconditional love Jess had seen in them for the past seven years, two months, and eleven days. A piece of her soul clicked back into place with Kendra’s gaze, at the sudden knowledge that they weren’t over. They were together; they were still Jess and Kendra.

And Jess refused to be anyone else.