Once in a Lifetime: Deluxe Edition - Harper Bliss - E-Book

Once in a Lifetime: Deluxe Edition E-Book

Harper Bliss

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Beschreibung

True love deserves a second chance.


Leigh Sterling and Jodie Whitehouse share a passionate connection. Unfortunately, their differing visions of the future force them apart. Life goes on, but their attempts at other relationships fail to measure up to the love they once shared.


When they see each other again after more than a decade apart, they realize they may be soulmates. Can they ever find their way back to one another?


Find out in this emotional and passionate novel by best-selling lesbian romance author Harper Bliss.


For fans of second chance romance! This special Deluxe Edition contains additional short stories about former lovers finding their way back to each other:


I Still Remember


Successful news anchor Elise returns to her hometown after running away from a love she couldn’t understand nor act upon all those years ago.


No Greater Love Than Mine


Twenty years ago, Angela Hill and Jackie Smith shared a forbidden night of passion, leaving Angela heartbroken after Jackie returned to her husband.


Lovely Rita


Reconnecting with an ex in a surprising way...

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Contents

Preface

Once in a Lifetime

I Still Remember

No Greater Love than Mine

Lovely Rita

Acknowledgments

A Note from Harper

Get Three Books FOR FREE

About the Author

Also by Harper Bliss

Preface

February 2021

Dear Reader,

Who doesn’t love a second chance at love? All the characters in this ‘deluxe edition’ of Once in a Lifetime took their shot when the opportunity presented itself again. It’s up to you to find out if they succeeded.

Leigh and Jodie’s journey in Once in a Lifetime started in a short story I wrote a very long time ago called As Years Go By. I was so smitten with the passion between them that, at my wife’s urging, I decided to give them a full-length novel to tell their love story in much greater detail.

Even though I’ve written more than thirty novels by now, some of you still consider Once in a Lifetime your favorite. And I get it. Leigh and Jodie simply belong together and their bond (amongst other things) is so strong that it transcends all the obstacles they face.

I don’t write second-chance romance that often, despite having a soft spot for it. I’m usually too busy writing age-gap romance (my first love) but, as I write this introduction to this deluxe edition, I’m actually working on a second-chance age-gap romance (called At Your Most Beautiful) and the second chance element is absolutely crucial to the book. This made me think of other second-chance stories I’d written and gave me the idea to collect them. What better way than to include them as bonus material alongside my ultimate second-chance novel, Once in a Lifetime?

In this edition you will find the very first second-chance story I ever wrote, I Still Remember. It’s full of nostalgia and also features a massage that may leave you a touch (or a lot) hot under the collar.

No Greater Love Than Mine is a story I wrote more recently featuring two fifty-something ladies between whom there isn’t a lot of love lost any longer, until they unexpectedly cross each other’s path again (and sparks start flying.)

One of the things I love most about second-chance romance is all the emotions it evokes and No Greater Love Than Mine might only be novella-length, but I guarantee you a novel-length dose of emotion.

The final bonus story, Lovely Rita, I originally wrote for an erotica anthology and for that reason it’s more second-chance hotness than second-chance romance, but with a bit of a twist. Do go forth and find out what I mean by that.

Enjoy all the goodness that makes second-chance romance so great: nostalgia, emotion and, of course, scorching hot scenes when the love is, at last, rekindled!

Thank you,

Harper Bliss

Once in a Lifetime

Chapter One

Jodie has always looked too damn glam to be a social worker. Look at her. She’s only just gotten out of the shower, and already she seems to have this sheen to her. A sheen I used to find irresistible—all glossy and inviting and yes-I-will-let-you-do-that-to-me—but now it shrouds her in a distance I can’t seem to bridge anymore. As if she’s made her decision already.

On top of that, she knew I didn’t want to come here. Not to Gerald’s place, with all its man things, and a few of Troy’s toys always lingering, no matter how many times the cleaner comes before we arrive for the weekend—I guess even people who get paid to tidy get tired of the never-ending task of stowing a child’s toys.

Jodie has her arms wrapped around her body, clothed in the light-blue silk robe she always wears after taking a shower. She looks out over the beach, as if answers are there, in the sand that has been brushed clean overnight by the ocean. Answers to how to resolve this always-returning argument between us, the one that’s been wearing us down for months.

“Hey,” she says, finally, turning away from the window. “Did you manage to get some sleep?”

I wonder how I must look to her now. And how would Gerald feel about his ex-wife’s partner sleeping on his Chesterfield sofa in nothing but a t-shirt and panties?

“Some.” In the beginning, when Jodie and I had just gotten together, it was a thrill to come to her ex’s lavish Hamptons beach house for a dirty weekend. But now, six years down the line, when she suggested coming here as a sort of last resort it felt more like she was trying to tell me something. The way she also does sometimes without words. Her face all brooding and unreadable, although I don’t need to see her eyes anymore to know that it’s over.

I could have slept in Gerald’s room—or Troy’s—but deciding to sleep on the sofa last night felt like a defiant stand. Now, in the cold hard light of day, it feels like a decision made by someone foolish enough to put stubbornness before a good night’s sleep. At thirty-three, I’m not old by a long stretch, but, all the same, my bones prefer a soft bed.

It’s only Saturday morning, and already we’re in the middle of this fraught stand-off. How will we get through the next twenty-four hours without biting each other’s heads off?

“Coffee?” Jodie asks. Her expression is not unfriendly but her face is not exactly folded into a peace-making one either. And I can’t help myself. I suspect she’s naked underneath that robe, and I still feel it—I still want her—but too many ugly words have passed between us and neither one of us knows how to take them back.

“Sure.” I sit up straighter. Stare at the coffee table. I have to hand it to Gerald; he has excellent taste in furniture. If we got along better, I’d ask him where he got this table, as a way of making small talk and being civil and all that, but Gerald and I have been wrapped in a silent, mutually agreed upon mild hostility since we first met, and I never had the inclination to do anything about it. I’m not in a relationship with Gerald, so why bother?

“Can’t you try a bit harder?” Jodie used to ask me in the beginning. “If not for me then at least for Troy’s sake?” I can still see her shake her head at me. “You can be so ruthless sometimes.”

“My mother is called Ruth,” I would tell her. “And as long as she’s alive, I will never be Ruth-less.” The first few times I used that line Jodie actually giggled and dropped the subject.

I get up and sit at the breakfast bar, looking out over the ocean, which is savage this time of year, the waves loud and brash—the way I like it.

“The waves are like you,” Jodie once said, “they never know when to stop. They just keep on going and going. The tide may retreat twice a day, but it always—always—comes back with full force.”

“That analogy does not add up at all, Jodes,” I’d said. “You’re just babbling.” And I had grabbed her, pushed her down on Gerald’s sofa, and shown her what it was like to just keep on going while she looked out over those waves.

“What would you like to do today?” I ask. Her hand trembles a bit as she pours me a mug of coffee and she spills a few drops on the counter. Neither one of us cares.

Disappear, her face seems to say. It’s so pale, it seems all pigment has drained from her body. Jodie’s always pale, what with her Irish blood and skin, but I can tell this… phase we’re going through has worn her out. If only it were just a phase. “Go for a walk, I guess.” She actually shrugs when she says that, as if it doesn’t matter anymore what we do. “Maybe have lunch at Gino’s.”

I shake my head before sipping. The coffee is strong, the way we both like it.

“What?” Jodie stopped bothering to keep the irritation out of her voice months ago.

“What are we even doing here?” I know she’ll blame me again for actually saying something, but I can’t stand this anymore. All the love I had for her, everything we’ve built between us over the years, is not enough anymore to bear this.

“You know why we’re here.”

I look up from my coffee. Try to find something inviting in her eyes. I come up empty. “It feels to me like we’re here for one thing only.” I pause, ignoring the nervous contractions in my stomach. Something I learned to do in my first year in court. It’s harder to do when a relationship is at stake. “To break up.”

Jodie’s eyes narrow. “If you want to leave me. You’re free to go.”

I purse my lips together and nod in mock understanding, my chin going up and down in the most passive-aggressive way I can muster. “Sure. Because if this ends, of course I’ll be the one leaving you and you will have nothing to do with that.”

Jodie just sits there shaking her head. “I can’t change you, Leigh,” she says after a while. “I want what I want, and you want what you want.” Her voice breaks a little. We’ve said these things to each other before—in different versions, with alternative words—a million times, as if they need to be said a certain number of times before a decision can actually be made. If we’re waiting for the pain that comes with them to go away, we’ll have to wait until that ocean outside freezes over.

“Let’s get out of here.” I don’t want to stay in this house with her. I don’t want to spend my weekend drowning in this tension and not finding my way to the surface. My lungs are full of spite and anger and resentment already. Maybe it’s better for her if she can hate me. After all, I’m the bad one here. I’m the woman who has the audacity to go through life without any apparent desire for motherhood. “Or better yet. I’ll go.” I’ll pack up my things and be out of our apartment by the time you get home tomorrow evening, I want to add, but I can’t say the words. “It’s time,” I say instead.

That she doesn’t burst into immediate, passionate protest is like a knife in my gut, but it’s not as if this was ever going to be pain-free.

“I think it is, as well. This is killing us one day at a time.” We don’t look at each other. In my case, for fear of seeing something in her face, her demeanor, or anything else, that I could latch onto. And I’m tired of fighting. Of coming up with arguments that won’t win her over, because some things are just how they are, and no reasoning stands up to them.

But can this really be how it ends? The pair of us drinking coffee in Gerald’s house? After all the shouting has been done, and the harshest words have been spoken, can it just be this calm conclusion that we draw?

“Okay. I’ll go.” I don’t get up though. How can I? How can I walk away from Jodie Whitehouse? The woman who has given me everything. Why can’t I be a bit more accommodating? After all, I don’t mind Troy being around. It’s not as if I detest children. It’s not as if Jodie expects me to become a full-time mother. But it feels as if I have to give up a crucial piece of myself to stay with her and honor her wishes. Her fierce desire to have another child clashes so ferociously with my own wishes and it’s laying bare a fundamental difference between us—one that can’t be overcome by a thousand conversations, or the best sex we ever had in our lives.

“Leigh.” Her leg touches mine for a split second, but is gone before I even get the chance to register her touch properly. “I—” But Jodie has run out of words, too. We knew months ago that words wouldn’t save us.

“It’s fine.” This time, I do get up. Gerald’s place has floor heating, so I don’t even get punished with cold tiles under my feet. On the surface, it may look like I’m walking away scot-free, all limbs intact, no skin broken. Beneath my ribs, though, my heart breaks because I know what I’m walking away from. I know all too well, yet, I can’t stay. Because staying would only mean more of this, more of this chipping away at what we once had, at each other’s confidence and essence. It has to stop sometime. It stops today. At 11.34 a.m. on Saturday, the twenty-second of April 2003. The day Leigh Sterling and Jodie Whitehouse cease being a couple.

And we were a good one. We had it, that unidentifiable chemistry, that boundless passion, the knowledge that we saw each other for who we were and that, just maybe, this might be forever. But it wasn’t enough. And the mere fact that even a love like this, a love like ours, is not enough, scars my soul here and now. I head to Gerald’s guest room—the room Jodie and I have always used—where I left my bag last night, just to pretend that there might be a possibility of us sleeping in it together.

I don’t bother showering; just throw the few items that made it out of my bag back in, slip into a pair of jeans, a washed-out gray hoodie, and my trainers. I glance at the bed Jodie slept in. The sheets are twisted and the pillows scattered, indicating she had a rough night. Nights before break-ups usually are. It was a quick drive to get here last night, because no one goes to The Hamptons when the weather is gray and heavy like this, and the icy silence in the car was only broken by muffled radio voices and nostalgic songs from the oldies channel. I guess our break-up was already a done deal and coming here just a formality. As if we couldn’t break up in our home, as though the many memories we made there would stop us. The sight of our bedroom door, some paint peeled off the upper right corner. The picture of us above the fireplace, of Jodie and me in Hawaii, when, perhaps for the last time, we looked immeasurably happy. I’d just left the D.A.’s office for Schmidt & Burke and we’d splashed out. Maybe I should never have left the District Attorney’s office. Perhaps me crossing over to the other side was what kick-started this entire process.

But I know I’m only fooling myself. I know very well what has brought me here, bag in hand, ready to leave this weekend place where we never really belonged anyway. It’s me, and the immutability of what I feel inside, of not being able to meet Jodie halfway in this—not even a quarter of the way really. I know what I’m walking away from, however, and it hurts so much I find it hard to put one foot in front of the other, to leave this room in which we haven’t slept together for a very long time. We came here to talk, to smooth things out, or, at least, that’s what we told ourselves. It’s not as if we could say, “Hey, let’s go to The Hamptons and finally get this break-up over with, shall we?”

But then I somehow find it in myself to start walking. I descend the stairs for the last time—because why would I ever come here again? Jodie is in her robe, her hands clasped around that coffee mug that should be empty by now. What do we do? How do we say our final goodbye? I can’t just walk away. Not after six years with her. There needs to be a gesture of closure.

“This is it, then,” Jodie says, fingers wound tightly around the mug. Outside, the wind howls, and I feel its echo in my heart. My heart wants to scream. I want to cry. But I need to hold it together, need to make it to the car in one piece.

“Will you be okay getting back?”

But Jodie is a public transport girl, and she can train her way out of anywhere. She nods. Why am I prolonging this agony? Her hair is almost dry now. I always envied how she can wear it long and never has to do anything to make it look fabulous. “It just dries into perfection,” she used to say when she was feeling sassy.

Will she walk toward me? Or, because I’m the one who’s doing the leaving, should I make a detour? I’m by the door already, but only because the stairs end there. Again, I’m frozen in my spot. Am I doing the right thing? I recognize this last question as panic. Last-minute nerves. Fear. What am I going to do without her? Without our apartment to go home to? Where am I going to stay? And what will she tell Troy when he gets back from Gerald’s on Monday evening?

“Bye,” Jodie says, her voice a dagger in my heart.

“Yeah.” The way we’re doing this stands in such stark contrast to how we were as a couple that, perhaps, it’s fitting. Perhaps this is the only way.

I reach for the handle and open the door.

Chapter Two

I watch the door for a long time after Leigh has let it close behind her. As if she might come back. Change her mind. Undo everything. As if, on the way to the car, on those few steps between the front door and the driveway, something magical has happened, and an idea that will save us has sparked in her brain. But we—Jodie and Leigh—are not to be saved. So, I just stand there, looking at a shut door. It’s a beautiful one. Large in a classy, designer way, and shiny in… ah, hell, I don’t know which tint of brown. All I know is that Gerald’s money bought it and that Leigh never wanted to walk through it.

I’m still clasping my hands around this mug. I can’t let go because it’s the mug I drank from when we shared the last coffee of our life together. Everything I do now has this ring of finality to it. Or, if you look at it differently, of new beginnings. The start of my life without her.

Fuck, I love her. And I’ve let her go. Does she know how much I love her? How much she has changed me? Six years is hardly a lifetime, but it sure as hell feels that way now. And what am I going to do with myself, right now? I chose to come here to The Hamptons so I feel like I should stay.

I wait a few seconds longer but the door remains shut. I heard her car leave the driveway minutes ago. My wishful thinking is based on pure fantasy. And what if she did walk through the door again? I still couldn’t take her back. The first thing that changes in this tableau vivant of Broken-hearted Woman in The Hamptons I imagine myself in, is the mug slipping from my fingers. As if all strength is draining from me and even an empty cup is too much to hold. It falls to the floor, but it doesn’t break. It’s empty, so there won’t be any stains to wipe away either. My legs give out next. I crash to my knees—shattering the way the wretched coffee mug wouldn’t—and I know I will have bruises, but what does it matter? Leigh is gone. Then the tears come in waves, like the ocean outside.

We didn’t even hug. I can’t even remember the last time we touched. Have I really become so cold that I let her leave without even the briefest of touches? Tears rain down on the floor, next to the unbroken mug. I try to wipe them with my robe, but silk is not very absorbent. Fuck, I scream on the inside. What have I done to us? Because Leigh might be the one who walked out, but I’m the one who made her do it.

Still, it’s not as simple as that. I spread myself out on the floor in a dramatic fashion, arms wide, head to the side, as if I’ve fallen and can never get back up without the help of someone else. Without her.

I first saw her in court. I could tell she considered herself a bit of a hot-shot, even though her only task that afternoon was to sit there and observe. She’d only just joined the D.A.’s office, but I could already tell she was the kind of person who wouldn’t keep on fighting the state’s battles for the rest of her life. Even in a cheap pants suit, she had some glitz about her. Her hair was longer then, with sideways swept bangs that covered her eyes when she didn’t brush them aside. She pushed her hair away from her face a lot that day.

After the court hearing, her colleague, Dan Mazlowski, quickly introduced us, but they both had other places to be. Leigh shook my hand with determination, like a woman who knew the importance of a strong handshake—like a woman working in a man’s world. If I registered on her radar at all that day, she didn’t let on. It would take five more weeks until we met next.

I saw her exiting the courthouse, coming down the steps with sure strides, as I made my way inside. She just nodded. I’ve always remembered that she wore pinstripes, and I considered that an odd choice. I only allowed myself a brief frivolous thought of another woman that day. I was still getting used to being a divorced woman, living in a small apartment on the Upper East Side, sharing custody of a child. My mind was overflowing with babysitter schedules and how to make my modest city paycheck last until the next payday. And there was Alexander to consider, the boy on whose behalf I was testifying that day.

The main reason for my divorce from Gerald was crystal clear to me, but I simply hadn’t had the time to pursue anything. Nevertheless, despite our very brief introduction a few weeks earlier, and this quick, courteous nod on the steps, something did register with me. I didn’t realize at the time, but looking back, I had to acknowledge that somewhere deep inside, I already knew I wanted to see her again.

The next time I saw her was at my office. There was that handshake again and I noticed for the first time how broad her hands were, as if slightly out of proportion with the rest of her. Her fingers were long, like her, but also wide, and so strong.

“I’m here for the Cindy Latimer case,” she said, her brown eyes resting on me. “Good to see you again, Mrs. Dunn.”

“Oh, it’s Whitehouse. I guess my name change hasn’t made it through all the channels yet.”

She tipped her head a fraction to the right. “I guess not,” she said, and only then let go of my hand.

“Please, call me Jodie.” She was wearing pinstripes again. I escorted her to my cubicle, where we huddled so closely over a case file I could smell her perfume. I recognized it as DKNY, one of my personal favorites.

“I guess I’ll see you in court then, Jodie,” she said, a broad smile on her face. I felt it then. I didn’t have much experience at picking women who were into women out of a crowd, but somehow, with Leigh Sterling, I knew. Built-in gaydar, perhaps. If only it had worked when I looked in the mirror before I married Gerald.

“I look forward to it.” I extended my hand and suddenly I couldn’t wait for her to take it in hers again. As she did, her smile transformed into a crooked grin.

“Poor word choice, perhaps,” she offered. “Considering what happened to the girl on whose behalf you’ll be testifying.”

I was so taken aback, I didn’t immediately know what to say. I still stood there, slightly entranced by this woman who opened up rather a few possibilities in my mind, that I could only mumble, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be unprofessional about it.”

She gave my hand one last squeeze. “Day after tomorrow, then?”

“See you there.” I watched her walk off.

“Earth to Jodie,” Muriel in the cubicle next to me whispered. “Come back to us, please. The New York City Administration for Children’s Services needs you. The children need you.”

“Shut up,” I hissed, feeling caught out.

“You’re smitten.” Muriel couldn’t let it go.

I sat back down, hoping that disappearing from her sight would put a stop to her teasing.

“You don’t giggle like that when Dan comes to see you, Jodie. And you especially don’t stutter like that.”

I wheeled my chair back so as to get a good look at her. “I wasn’t stuttering.”

“Hm-mm.” Muriel rolled her eyes at me. “Sure, girl. Believe what you want. I’m just an innocent bystander, that’s all.”

“What do you think of her?”

“Of her?” She pursed her lips together. “Hot piece of ass, for sure. As for what I think of you, Mizz Whitehouse… I think you want a slice of that.”

I shook my head. “Please, Muriel. Must you be so crass?” I said it in the voice I used to impersonate our supervisor.

“I must.” Muriel stretched her legs and rested her feet on an overflowing trashcan. “I must also discuss this further with you over drinks after work.”

“I can’t tonight. I have Troy.”

“Then you and Troy must come to dinner and we shall discuss this further while Francine helps him with his homework.”

“He’s five, Muriel. He doesn’t have homework yet.”

“Then she’ll build a fort with him. Whatever. God knows the woman is broody and she loves that child. Do it for her.” She tapped her thumbs together. “And you’d better know who to call to babysit when you and the sexy ADA go on a date.”

The ringing of Muriel’s phone interrupted our conversation. Before she picked up, she pointed her forefinger at me, as if to say that what she’d just proposed was non-negotiable.

Our first date happened weeks later. After the Cindy Latimer case, Leigh rushed to another appointment and we barely had a chance to say goodbye. A similar case put us back in court together, only this time Leigh didn’t win and instead of being placed in a state facility for his protection, Joey Williams, the child in question, was sent back to his family.

“Drink?” was all she said.

It was October, and the city was cold and wet. I’d stepped in a puddle on the way over to court and one of my shoes was soaked. Troy was at his dad’s and when I looked into Leigh’s eyes to say “Yes, please” I already felt a little bit better about the unfairness of the system and its repercussions on Joey.

My instinct and Muriel both turned out to be correct. Not even fifteen minutes into our date, Leigh said, “Just so you know, Jodie, I’m into women and I like you.”

“That’s very forward.” My heart was thumping beneath my thick woolen sweater.

“I mean,” she continued, “I could be all coy about it. Throw out some feelers. Probe gently into your personal life, but after the afternoon we’ve had, I don’t really have the energy for games like that.”

I nodded pensively, as if mulling over what she’d just said, while really I’d been dreaming about a moment like this—in various degrees of hotness—for weeks. From the get-go, she was someone whose presence in my life, no matter how small and infrequent, I couldn’t shake. It sat there, at the back of my mind, coming to the fore out of the blue, and often late at night when I couldn’t sleep.

“Additionally,” Leigh hadn’t finished yet, “I get a rather distinct sort of vibe off you. I wouldn’t be saying all of this if I didn’t.” She ended with a wide smile. One that shot straight through my flesh, to body parts untouched for years.

“Well.” I looked into my glass of cheap wine. Despite its acid taste, it was nearly finished. “I guess I’d better buy another round then.”

“I’d much rather do something else with you than sit here and get drunk,” Leigh said.

“Like what?” I asked, already mesmerized by the twinkle in her eyes.

Her response came in the shape of another smile. She bit her bottom lip, and I wished my teeth were doing that to her.

I pull myself from the floor, avoid the view of the ocean, and go straight upstairs. I pull some clothes out of my overnight bag, and as I turn, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. As expected, my eyes are red-rimmed, my skin blotched, my cheeks puffy. I can’t help but wonder if I’m looking at a woman who has done the right thing. Because if it was right to let her go, then why does it hurt so much? Why this urge to undo? To go back? To sacrifice, now that it’s too late?

But I’m a mother. First and foremost, I am Troy Dunn’s mother, and I want another child. It was one of the first things I told Leigh six years ago. Nothing is more important to me than my child. And I will have another. Was she not listening when I said that? Because I said it often, and in a clear voice. Of course, I waited. I needed to know where things were going with her first. Needed Troy and her to get acquainted. Needed to build our life together first.

Judging from the woman looking back at me in the mirror, I’ve gone and destroyed that life together. Yet, despite the blistering pain, somewhere beneath my ribcage, a sense of relief builds. I’m free now. No more fights. No more energy wasted on trying to convince her that this may actually be something she wants as well. No more talking to deaf ears. I know what I want. I can see it so clearly. Troy and I in Central Park pushing a pram. The look on his face when I first bring his brother or sister home. The wonder in his eyes. The first time he realizes he’s someone’s big brother now.

Over the past year, those thoughts have become my fantasies much more than anything I wanted Leigh to do to me.

I push a finger into the pillowy flesh of my tear-stained cheek. These signs of heartbreak will fade away over time, as will the most acute pain. I’ll pull myself together. Go for a walk on the beach alone. Return to the city tomorrow. Go to work the day after and pick Troy up from his dad’s in the evening. I will hug him, and explain to him why Leigh couldn’t stay with us, and then I will hug him some more—for both our benefit. And our life will go on without her, until it’s not just me and Troy anymore, and we welcome a newborn baby into our home.

I nod resolutely at the woman in the mirror. Her eyes brighten a tad. Then I catch a glimpse of the bed behind me, the bed Leigh didn’t even sleep in, and it hits me again that she’s gone. For good.

Chapter Three

When I arrived at our apartment on Saturday after the drive back from The Hamptons, I was in such a state, I’m surprised I managed to throw some spare panties in a suitcase. Ours was not an easily uproot-able life. I moved into Jodie’s apartment on York Avenue not long after we got together. My place was bigger, but hers was rent-controlled and located only a few blocks from Gerald’s townhouse on East 78th Street. The plan was to find a place together after I’d been with Schmidt & Burke for a while, but that never happened.

So, now, I feel like it’s Jodie’s bell I’m ringing. I can hardly still call it ours, not even in my head. She buzzes me up. She knows I’m coming to collect my things. I already know that I won’t be able to move everything I want this time either. She’ll just have to live with my stuff for a while longer, until I figure out a more permanent place to stay.

I don’t knock immediately when I reach the front door of 3B, but the door opens anyway.

“Hey,” Jodie says and gestures for me to come inside. It’s strange to have her do that while the key to this apartment still sits snugly in my pocket.

My heart sinks when I see the two suitcases and the couple of boxes she has piled up in a corner. She wants me out so badly she packed up my things.

“You’ve been busy.” I head over to the boxes.

“Look, I know you wanted to see Troy, but he’s staying over at Jake’s after his soccer game.”

“How is he?”

Jodie stops in her tracks and looks at me as if I have absolutely no right to inquire about the well-being of her son, a child I shared a home with for almost six years. “What do you want me to say, Leigh? That he misses you? That you leaving has him crying himself to sleep at night? Because, yes, that’s what he does. You know he adores you and it hurts.”

I bite back the tears. “I wish you’d stop saying that I’m leaving you.” I lean against the boxes, looking for some sort of support. “Because, to me, it feels much more as if you’re not giving me an option to stay.”

Jodie holds up her hands. “Let’s not do this again.” Almost instantly, her arms go limp again, drooping by her side. She’s not looking very glam today, despite the glossiness of that skirt she’s wearing. “I can’t.”

“I want to say goodbye, Jodie. I want to see him.”

“Of course. I’ll set something up. I promise. Today, I just couldn’t—” Jodie wrings her hands together.

“I understand.” It’s not as if I have any claims to make on her child.

“Where are you staying?” She struts to the couch and sits, not looking me in the eyes.

“At a colleague’s.” When I arrived back in the city on Saturday afternoon, I decided to call Sonja on a whim. Most likely because I was in dire need of some admiration.

“Not Sonja?” Jodie asks, the inflection in her tone indicating that she already knows the answer. And that I’ve just reached a whole new level of despicableness.

I just shrug. It’s easy for her. She still has a home.

“I can’t take all of this now.” I point at the boxes and think of the rickety pull-out couch in Sonja’s broom cupboard which doubles as a spare room. “I just came to get some essentials.”

“You seem to have gotten by without them for the past week.” In a way, it satisfies me that she’s getting worked up because I’m staying at Sonja’s. Perhaps it wasn’t the most dignified choice, seeing as Sonja blatantly hit on me one time Jodie joined us for after-work drinks, but what’s the point of caring about that now?

“Can we please get through this in a civilized manner, Jodes?” I sigh. “It’s hard enough as it is.” My mind flashes back to that night when Jodie met Sonja. Jodie sat there pouting like a wronged teenager, sulking with a martini glass in her hand, her back to me and the rest of my colleagues. After I’d let her stew for half an hour, I took her home and showed her how much room there was for another woman in my life. “No one takes it like you, Jodie,” I’d said to her while ripping her panties off her. “And you know it.”

She nods and rests her head on her upturned palm, fingers cradling her jaw. “This place is not exactly spacious either. Just… don’t wait too long.”

I try to find her eyes, but she doesn’t let me. I suppose asking if we could, at some point, still be friends, is out of the question. “I won’t.” I turn to the suitcases. “Are my suits in here?”

“They’re still in the closet. I wanted to leave them hanging up.” And it’s this mundane, homely piece of information that kills me the most. Because Jodie can’t help but care about things like that, just as she can’t leave any dishes in the sink before she goes to bed. Having my stuff linger here must be terrible for her, not just on a personal level, but it must seriously mess with her OCD.

“I’ll just take those and the suitcases. I’ll come back for the boxes as soon as I can.” I can’t begin to imagine what opening these boxes will do to me, knowing that she packed them.

“Okay.” Suddenly, she stands. “Please, come here.” Her voice has grown small.

I don’t question it, just go to her.

“Just… one last hug. To say goodbye properly.” Jodie’s a few inches shorter than I and when she looks up at me like this, her eyes pleading and her lips trembling, I actually want to question my desire not to have children—again.

I wrap my arms around her. Her head presses against the flesh above my breast, as it has done countless times, and at first the embrace we stand in is strangely soothing, until wetness spreads where my blouse is open, and Jodie is sobbing, her tears hot against my skin.

“Hey.” I curl my fingers around her neck, also a tried and tested gesture between us, and pull her up so I can look at her. I know this sucks, I want to say, but what the hell kind of difference will it make now? I wipe away some of her tears with the back of my hand, but it’s pointless, because a gazillion more of them moisten my hand and her cheek, as if something has broken behind her eyes, something that, right now, looks like it can never be fixed again. So, instead of talking, I slant my head toward her, and I kiss her. Her lips taste salty and they are slippery, but she easily allows me access to her mouth. My tongue slides in and I try not to think of the circumstances. I try not to wonder about the uselessness of break-up sex. I’m not even sure I can do it. I’m not sure this can go further than this sloppy, wet kiss, which could be considered as part of that goodbye hug she asked for.

Or perhaps she was asking for more.

Jodie’s lips are frantic on mine. She bites and sucks as if there’s no tomorrow. I can’t blame her, of course, because for us, there is none. There’s only now. One last moment. One last opportunity to be Jodie and Leigh. One last chance to change our minds, perhaps? But no, I think we both know that ship has sailed. This is just a way of saying goodbye, as opposed to the hurried manner in which I fled the house in The Hamptons.

Jodie’s tugging at my shirt buttons already. Her mouth has descended to my neck. Her hands are on my belly, crawling upward, and her fingers slip under the underwire of my bra. I have no more time to question if I really want to do this. Jodie has decided for me. For once, I let her. We can have this. Even if it’s just an instant during which we don’t have to face the consequences of who we have become. Two people wanting vastly different things from life.

So I hoist Jodie’s top up, and we unglue for a second, and I still can’t find her eyes. She can fuck me, but she can’t look at me. Somehow, I understand. Understanding each other was never an issue. We’re both very good at laying out arguments, displaying logic, and making each other see why we want certain things. If only life’s issues could be resolved by understanding each other.

Because I understand what Jodie needs now. She needs to forget. She needs a moment to hold onto, something between us to look back on other than all this pain we’ve caused each other. And right now, in the state we’re in, this can only be physical.

Jodie doesn’t wait for me to undo her bra. She rips it roughly off and throws it on the sofa behind her. She barely gives me the opportunity to take in her breasts one last time. Those tiny nipples of hers, that can grow hard just by being gazed upon. They’re so pink and perfect, but there’s no time to dwell. Jodie practically grabs me by the neck and shoves them in my mouth. She’s not usually one to be so forceful, but that, too, I get. She wants to leave an impression, make a memory. And, perhaps, she also wants to make sure that, grief-stricken as I am, I don’t end up in Sonja’s bed.

Her mouth is by my ear and at first she just sighs and moans, but then she says, “Fuck me, Leigh.” And if she wanted the hinges to come off, her wish has been granted. I move away from her breasts and let her nipple fall from between my lips.

“Look at me,” I say, my voice demanding. “Look at me, Jodes.”

Her eyes are still filled with tears and her cheeks are smeared with mascara.

“Take off your skirt.” I hadn’t noticed before, but it’s the one we bought together a few months ago, during a weekend which we both firmly believed was to bring us closer together again. Because the human brain can trick you into believing anything if you really want it to. Is that why she wore it? It doesn’t matter now. It’s coming off, slipping into a puddle of dark-green fabric on the hardwood floor.

She’s taken off her underwear as well and she stands before me naked. Quite the parting gift, I think, without a hint of cynicism.

I strip quickly and methodically before pulling her toward me because, as always, this is going to be my show. The one where I call the shots.

Together, we sink to the floor. Only part of it is carpeted, but it’ll do. Jodie stretches out beneath me, her legs already spread. But some of the earlier frenzy has escaped us and the atmosphere is now morphing into a more solemn one, like a moment that needs to be cherished. If we rush this, we’re lost forever. We will have spent our last moments on a quick orgasm built on heartbreak. I think we both know it can’t be like that. Making a memory like that now would hurt too much, and everything is already so unbearably painful.

I lean over and kiss her. Slowly. Savoring her, although all I taste are salty tears. Our breasts press together in this final embrace, our nipples meeting in that way that can be so exciting. The way only being with another woman can feel. Softness on softness. Everywhere we touch, pillowy curves and smooth skin. It’s what Jodie said to me after our first night together. “I can’t believe how soft it is,” she’d said, and it had made me laugh, although it was true, but she was just so damn cute when she said it, as if it was the biggest revelation of her life. Maybe it was.

While I kiss her I let a hand roam down her belly. I wonder how many fingers would be appropriate for a goodbye fuck. I can’t give her less than three, but all five seems too much for the occasion. Too intimate.

“Fuck me,” Jodie says again, her hands in my hair. And then I do. I let three fingers slither through a wetness that baffles me. Then again, it always has, and it’s almost cruel that even now, during our very last moment together, it still does.

And it still turns me on as much as it did the first time I let my fingers wander between her legs. And this time, she gazes back, she stares up at me, and I know what that look means, because I know Jodie better than anyone does, and, especially in these circumstances, I know her better than I’ve known anyone in my life. She wants more. That’s what the non-blinking is about. The open mouth with no words coming out. Because I can’t give her anything else anymore—and, more particularly, the very thing she wants most in life, more than me—I give it to her.

I push three fingers inside of her, but quickly follow up with a fourth. To be inside of her after such a long time, because the past six months we spent most of our private time either in fraught arguments or in cold, distant silence, makes me well up. I can’t help it. The sob starts in the pit of my stomach, engaging my entire body. Because I’m fucking Jodie. I can feel my clit throb between my own legs, and this might be the most painful fuck I’ve ever been a part of. There’s pain, and more pain, but also the look of longing in Jodie’s eyes. Those beautiful green eyes, which were probably the first thing I noticed about her that time, so long ago when we were introduced at the courthouse. Green eyes are so rare, so of course they captured my attention. And I liked what I saw. I still do. Even though a mist of tears clouds them and our faces are so close my own tears add to the wetness of Jodie’s face, and I can’t see them right now. And then I realize that what we’re doing right now is just as messy as what we’ve become. We’re lovers who will turn into exes, perhaps even strangers.

I’m inside a woman who will disappear from my life. A woman I’ve loved for six years. A woman who opened herself up to me in ways we both deemed unimaginable when we first met.

“Oh Leigh,” Jodie moans, in that way of hers, and this is a million times more painful than when I walked out of the door at the house in The Hamptons. But maybe we need this pain. Because how else could we possibly mark the end of our affair than with regret in our hearts and tears in our eyes?

Then she comes for me for the very last time, and I can feel her climax shudder through me, like a parting gift. And then, it’s over. Then we’re just two naked people on our—her—apartment floor, trying to wrap their heads around what just happened, and quickly realizing that nothing has changed. I still need to drag my suitcases down the stairs and leave.

Chapter Four

My alarm clock is one that Leigh bought. She’d broken the one I’d had for years after slapping it with all her might one too many times. She was never much of a morning person. And now I’m stuck with it. It sits there, during the night when I can’t sleep, its red digits mocking me. I should have put it in one of her boxes. I still can. She left them. I’ll never know if that’s because she still wanted to leave a piece of herself in our apartment, or if she genuinely didn’t know what to do with them. And if she thinks it’s easier for me because the lease on this apartment is in my name, she can think again. Even with most of her things packed up, her presence is everywhere.

Not for the first time, I wonder if this agony is worth it. But I can also hear Leigh’s words in my head: “We’re fundamentally different people, Jodie,” she said, in the aftermath of one of our fights, after we’d calmed down enough to use a normal tone of voice again. “Perhaps, if our differences were about something less important than the desire to procreate, we could maneuver around them, but this… it’s too big for negotiations and compromise. The last thing I want is to make you unhappy. If I stay, that’s what will happen.”

When she first said it, I still believed I could change her mind. That my love was powerful enough to accomplish that. That was my mistake. Perhaps I should have run at the first sign of our incompatibility.

“Do you want children?” I asked over a breakfast of mimosas and croissants. We sat half-dressed on Leigh’s sofa after one of our early dates and a wild, wild night that had left me so dazed and satisfied, her reply didn’t even matter at that point. I was just thinking of Troy, the way I always did after waking up.

Leigh put her mug on the coffee table and reached for her champagne flute. “Can’t say that I do.”

I was so smitten her words barely registered, even though, somewhere in the back of my mind, a red flag was being raised nonetheless. But this was our third date, so not exactly the time to plan how many kids you see yourself having. But there was no hesitation in her voice when she said it, only determination.

“Is that a deal breaker?” she asked.

“Well, you know I have a son.” Troy was at Muriel and Francine’s, most likely being spoilt rotten.

Leigh smiled the sort of smile that could make the more susceptible kind of judge melt on their bench. “Whom I would love to meet.” She locked her big brown eyes on mine. She’d slipped into the silk blouse she’d worn the night before, but hadn’t buttoned it properly, and it had slid off one shoulder. Those shoulders. I could look at them for days. “But I don’t want any of my own.”

It was more than enough to placate me at the time. “Maybe we can pick him up together later?”

Leigh nodded thoughtfully. “As long as later means I get to do this now.” She disposed of her glass and reached for my legs, pulled me toward her and flattened me on the sofa. The first year of our relationship, we didn’t spend a lot of time talking. She fucked me again then, and not even in the way that would change me forever.

The first time Leigh really took my breath away, we’d stayed in at my place during a weekend that Troy was at Gerald’s.

“Why go out?” Leigh had asked when she’d arrived. “When there’s plenty to do in the comfort of your home?”

I was sure my eyes had started glittering with anticipation, but I only saw Leigh’s eyes when she said it, and something I couldn’t place shone in them. A darkness I hadn’t yet encountered. It ignited a yearning in my belly I’d never felt before.

She barged her way in, shut the door behind her, and with subtle but clearly noticeable force, shoved me against it. She looked into my eyes, waiting for some sort of approval, but I was already too aroused to give her that. The stupid grin on my face was probably enough for a woman like Leigh to understand that she was on the right track.

Slowly, she trailed her fingers along my arms, only to snap them around my wrists hard, denting skin. She hoisted my arms above my head and pinned my wrists to the door with those strong fingers of hers. All the while, her lips sported a grueling, sneering sort of smile that left me wet like a river. It was as if what I had seen in her the first time we met, what I had seen flash in her eyes, that unquantifiable spark that had passed between us that I had mistaken for gaydar, was actually something else entirely. A sort of recognition, perhaps, an unexpected encounter of kindred souls.

She didn’t say anything, just looked at me, giving the impression that a few glances were enough to read the entirety of my being, my desires, what—bone-deep—I really longed for. That sneer told me that she had it all figured out, and the wordlessness of it was the biggest turn-on of all.

One hand grabbed my wrists in a tight grasp while the other unbuttoned my jeans. No kisses, and certainly no displays of tenderness, were exchanged before she slipped her fingers all the way into my panties and caught my already swollen clit between two digits, pressing hard.

My breath caught in my throat, my knees giving a little.

Then, she broke eye-contact and brought her lips to my ear. “Here’s what’s going to happen, Jodie,” she said, her voice all command. “I’m going to fuck you against this door and you’re going to come for me. Don’t make me wait for it, or else…” She released my clit, and the walls of my cunt clenched around nothing. Not for long, however, because one of her fingers was already sneaking closer.

Leigh dug her hand deeper into my pants, her wrist rubbing against my clit as she sought entrance to my cunt. She jammed her fingers inside in a rugged manner while her teeth sank into my earlobe. The fingernails of her other hand dug into my palms as—there’s really no other way to describe it—she took possession of me. And I knew, there and then, that nothing else would ever do for me again. This was it. Nothing I, or even we, had ever done together had impacted me so profoundly. Because it wasn’t pain I felt. It was something beyond pain, something beyond physical awareness, like a life-long thirst in my soul being quenched.

All my senses stood to attention as Leigh fucked me. This was not making love, as Leigh would later point out. This was fucking, and the fire in her glance when she said it left no room for contesting. Her DKNY scent filled my nose, and her teeth kept biting, rhythmically, and her fingers kept delving, and I was spread so wide, and filled to the brim, that I had no idea how many fingers she was using, but what turned me on the most was the immobilization of my hands, the sense of surrender that came with her controlling me in that way. What she’d asked of me earlier, came easily, although I was quite curious about the ‘or else’ she had threatened me with.

She must have known I was about to come and brought her face back across from mine to glare at me. She pushed harder with both hands, pinning my wrists painfully to the door, probably leaving bruises, while down below, she seemed to take hold of me, of everything of me, my pussy the entrance to the core of my being. She was in charge of everything.

My brain went blank as the climax momentarily paralyzed my limbs. Leigh pushed her body against mine to keep me upright, otherwise I would surely have crashed to my knees, weeping, as if this was my first time coming at her hands.

When I came back to my senses, her lips were on my neck, and both her hands in my hair. I remembered how I’d said to her the first time we had sex that I was blown away by the softness of it. Maybe that had inspired her to try something else because there was nothing soft about what she’d just done to me.

“This is just the beginning,” she whispered, her lips on my cheek. “Just an introduction, Jodie.” And only then did she kiss me.

I toss and turn in the faint red light of the alarm clock. I’m not wondering where and when I’ll ever find a woman like Leigh again. I know I won’t. I don’t want to, either. I had the passionate, all-effacing love affair. Now it’s time for something else. A visit to my ob-gyn, for starters. I’m thirty-six. If I’m lucky, I have more years for this, but now feels like the right time. If I can’t have both Leigh in my life and another child, I’ll choose another child. For the longest time, I held on to the belief that I would never have to choose, that life would arrange it so it would never have to come to that. But here I am. Alone in bed. Leigh’s side unoccupied from now on. Because I can’t possibly imagine another woman taking her place in my bed. Not because we only just broke up, but simply because I can’t envision another woman doing what she did to me.

At the first light of dawn, I can’t bear to be in the apartment on my own anymore. I take a shower and go for a walk. My plan is to keep walking until the hour is decent enough for me to pick up Troy from his friend’s house. I need desperately to spend every minute of this day with my son. Life always goes on when you have children. When you have someone to take care of.

“Up at the crack of dawn.” I hear a voice behind me. I don’t need to turn around to know that it’s George from 4A. “Are you sleeping like us old codgers now?”

I wait for him to catch up with me. He’s probably gone around the block a few times already. It’s what he does to pass the empty hours of his life. His words, not mine.

“Just going to fetch Troy.” It’s not a lie and I don’t feel like getting into the real reason behind my early Sunday morning walk.