Denise Sherwood's house was quiet. Probably more than she remembered it being. Jeremy had been deployed and so had her husband Frank. The recent estrangement in their marriage had left her feeling upset and confused. Especially as their single counselling session had gone from bad to worse. She wasn't certain what she wanted. Her feelings for her now-deceased co-worker, Dr. Getty had developed more than she had expected.
It was a crutch. Denise had turned to him because she was lonely and he was convenient. And he was single. She hadn't expected the friendship to change the way it did. His death was both a blessing and a curse. And she felt guilty for thinking that. It was eating her up inside.
She'd drawn herself a bath, full of bubbles and turned on some piano music from the bathroom stereo system. Music, that as Frank had reminded her, she only put on when she was sad or upset. And at that moment, she was both. She stripped down, sank into the heated tub and rested her head on the rim. Thoughts swam around and round in her head. Thought of her husband, her son, her work, her relationship with Getty and the revelation Getty's father had given her that his son was in love with her. Denise's eyes fell shut and she sank under the water, the music created a distorted sound about the room but not drowning out her thoughts.
A knock on the bathroom door startled Denise up through the surface of the water sending rivulets everywhere. Her head shook several times before her eyes focused on the face of Claudia Joy Holden, one of her best friends.
"Claudia Joy, what are you doing here?" She winced hearing her tone. She hadn't intended that to come out as harsh as it sounded. "Sorry, I just wasn't expecting anyone."
"I was a little worried about you after our conversation the other day and especially with Frank and Jeremy being gone. I had called work to see if you'd like to go out for dinner and they said you'd called in sick. Your car and bike were in the driveway but there was no answer when I knocked."
"I'm fine." Denise sighed. "Actually, no, I'm not."
"Everything. Nothing. We were going to tell Jeremy about the separation but when he gave us the news that he was being deployed we decided to wait. Not exactly the news he needed before shipping out. Everything is a mess and I don't know what to do. Frank and I are technically separated with him gone, too, but I really don't know if things are ever going to be right between us again. I love him but I'm not in love with him anymore. We want different things now. Life changes and adapts and yet he just wants everything to be the same. I can't go back to that. I don't want to go back to that."
"Denise, not to be dismissive of what you just said, but we need to get you out of that bath. You're starting to shiver. Come on." Claudia Joy stood up and held a towel and a hand out to her friend. She smiled as Denise rose out of the tub and stepped onto the laminate flooring, taking the towel and wrapping it around her. "I'm going to go downstairs to put on the kettle for some tea. Come on down when you're dressed." Claudia Joy gave her a prolonged hug. "I care about you. I just want you to be happy."
"Thank you. That means the world to me right now." They pulled out of the hug and Denise tightened the towel around her. "Now go. I'll be down soon."
The kitchen was brightly lit from the sun's rays shining through the windows when Denise entered the room. Some cut roses from Claudia Joy's garden rested in a vase on the counter. Claudia Joy had been cleaning the counter as the clutter she piled on there the previous night when she got home from work was now placed into neat piles of magazines and mail. A teapot sat on a hot mat on the rounded table along with mugs and some honey.
"You didn't have to do all that. But thank you. I was so tired after work I just came home and crashed." Denise stopped for a second seeing something that wasn't there earlier. "When did I get flowers?"
"You like? I picked them from my garden this morning. Thought it might cheer you up," Claudia Joy smiled at her.
"Thank you. They're beautiful." The pale peach coloured roses and ferns leant a wonderful colour and smell to the room. "Anyway, as I was saying, the ER was short last night and I ended up staying much longer than I expected. It just seemed like one accident after another kept coming in. Remind me again why I wanted to go back to this?"
"Because you love nursing and you're good at it. You care about people. You want them to feel better, to heal. You can heal just as much with kind words and touch as the doctors can with medicines. And sometimes people need those words and touch much more. Many of the soldiers that come through here have no family or friends nearby, if at all. You may only have contact with them for a couple shifts or so but that can make a difference to someone whose family can't be with them, am I right?"
Denise nodded her head. "So, how can I be so attentive and caring like that with my patients and yet have lost that ability with my own family? I don't like this. I feel like a failure, Claudia Joy."
Claudia Joy put her forearms on Denise's shoulders and looked her straight in the eye. "You are not a failure, Denise. Not at all. And don't let anyone ever tell you that you are." She closed her arms around Denise's neck and pulled her into a tight hug. Denise relaxed into her arms and she held on tighter. "You are not a failure."
As they pulled out of the hug, Denise brushed her lips against Claudia Joy's, intending it only as a friendly thankful kiss. The not so subtle shock that ran over the nerves of her body led to her increase the pressure before realizing what she was doing. Denise quickly stepped back a small step as they parted. "Oh God, I'm so sorry." Denise pulled away and quickly departed for the next room to try to collect her thoughts and wits.
After a moment, Claudia Joy went to find her. Huddled on the sofa in the living room with a blanket pulled up to her chin and tears rolling down her cheeks, Denise was the very image of sorrow. "Denise, sweetheart, you've got nothing to be sorry about." Claudia Joy knelt down on the floor next to Denise and put her hands on the other woman's face, tracking a tear and wiping it dry with her thumb.
"I kissed you." A confused frown formed over Denise's forehead.
"Yes, you did. And it wasn't the first time, or the last that I've kissed or been kissed by another woman."
"You're not repulsed?"
"Why would I be? Denise, you're my best friend. A kiss or two is not going to end our friendship. And your hurting is breaking my heart. I can't stand seeing you this sad." Claudia Joy moved around to sit up on the sofa and pulled Denise to her. "Come here." Denise did as requested and moved into the circle of Claudia Joy's arms as they rested against each other, Denise's head lay atop Claudia Joy's shoulder. The other woman's steady breathing and gentle brushing of her hair sent Denise to sleep within moments, exhausted as she was from the emotional turmoil of the last few days. Claudia Joy wrapped the blanket around them bringing it up to cover Denise's shoulders and then lay a kiss on her head before falling asleep as well.