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Erica Stone

Zara chose LA.

Technically, she left you.

That’s bullsh*t, and you know it.

Key word: 'technically.'

“Rickie?”

The lieutenant only grunts in response. The neck of a Bourbon whiskey bottle is clutched tightly in her fist.

“Rickie, what the f*ck?”

Sage stands in the doorframe, arms crossed over her chest. Rickie looks up from her place in the bathtub, all too familiar with the expression of disappointment and concern displayed on the blonde’s face. Not that Sage had often been upset with Rickie, but rather, the way in which her face changed had been so easily ingrained. But, in this moment, Rickie has no situational awareness - she doesn't understand that Sage is only reacting to her slovenly appearance, to the lack of self-control she displays. She can't quite comprehend how pathetic she looks.

Sage, baby.

She’s slurring, water sloshing around as she attempts to stand. Sage strides forward to take ahold of Rickie’s elbow, supporting the redhead as she steps precariously out of the tub. Soaked through, her clothes cling to her skin, too heavy and constricting for comfort. 

“Jesus, Rickie. What...”

I f*cked up,” she croaks, desperately trying to peel away her shirt.

“Yeah, doll. We’re going to get some water, and --”

No, no.” Rickie sways, and then tries to swat her away with a free hand. “I said, I f*cked up. I let... I let the woman I love...s-she...

Suddenly, there are silent tears streaming down Rickie’s cheeks. The emotional vulnerability takes Sage by surprise at first - during the course of their 4-year long relationship, Rickie had cried a total of three times. Sage curses under her breath, realizing just how desperate the situation is. Arms hooked under Rickie’s, the blonde hoists her friend upright. Then, there's a towel, and some murmuring. Soothing, calming, reassuring.

“C’mon, Stone Wall. It's alright.”

Can you stay? Please?

Pulling the towel tighter around her shoulders, Rickie blinks in attempt to focus her eyesight. The room spins as she’s lowered onto the bed, forcing her to take a deep breath. She’s upright for the time being, leaning heavily against her ex-wife’s shoulder. Sage doesn't mind, of course; she still cares deeply for the other woman - the love they had once shared only transformed into a new sort of affection.

I just need... I need you.

There’s some sincerity in her plea – something sad in the way she clings to the hem of Sage’s shirt as the blonde begins to stand. And for a moment, Sage almost gives in. But, when Rickie leans in with her eyes closed, the blonde comes to her senses. This is not a road she's comfortable traveling. 

“You need sleep, Stone,” she states firmly, pushing the other woman out of her personal space, “I’ll be by in the morning.”

June 14, 2018 10:47 pm

Erica Stone

Rickie’s alarm sounds at 5:15 am, eliciting a loud, irritated groan. She’s tempted to chuck her phone against the wall – what’s she need it for, anyways? – and skip her morning run.  But, because she’s a creature of habit, she swings her legs over the side of her bed and stretches, despite the pounding headache and intermittent waves of nausea. It takes her a matter of minutes to get dressed and lace up, and before she can think twice about her phone, she’s running out the door. Literally.

After about 3 miles, Rickie is unable to suppress the bile rising in her throat. She stops abruptly, doubling over to empty the contents of her stomach into a row of bushes. With a silent apology to the residents of that particular home, she’s off running again. The steady rhythm of her running shoes against the pavement is enough to propel her forward – music, at this time, would’ve been too much stimulus for her still-hazy mind. The birds chirp as the sun continues to rise above the horizon. She wonders if Zara is awake (unlikely), and if she’s doing okay (also unlikely).

You blew it, Erica.

She’d memorized the words of Zara’s last text as a painful reminder of how badly she’d ruined that relationship. In the military, her current situation would, undoubtedly, be referred to as a SNAFU. The thought makes her chuckle irreverently – of course she had to go and be a raging d*ckhead to the woman she loves because when has she ever been known to be nice?

You only have yourself to blame.

You’re incapable of letting someone love you.

True, Rickie Stone is painfully out of touch with her feelings. There’d been a time when her family had joked that she’s “allergic to the entire range of human emotion,” and to this day, the statement still holds some merit of truth. But, Zara is, and always had been right. She’d confronted Rickie about her lack of… impulsiveness. And although it made the redhead uncomfortable, it had also prompted her to try new things. To let loose, to take each day as a new opportunity. How quickly Rickie had devolved into old, rigid habits after the unexpected interruption of her recommissioning. She now realizes part of why maintaining relationships has always been so difficult – maybe she really is impossible to love?

We’re done.

Two syllables. Two simple words. Together, they hold an exorbitant amount of weight. They buzz around in Rickie’s skull, like two incessant, infuriating, pestering Horseflies. She can’t escape them, even as she picks up the pace. Her leg muscles are screaming, lungs begging for more oxygen as she rounds the corner. The sound of her heart pumping blood through her body is loud. Inhale, exhale. Rickie has no idea where she is, or how many miles she’s run. But, judging by the height of the sun, she can estimate that she’s been away from home for close to 2 hours.

F*ck.

The return home takes some time, and a little careful navigation. The neighborhood is unfamiliar to Rickie, although she prides herself in being able to efficiently find her way in new areas. She’s greeted rather unceremoniously when she comes down her driveway.

“Where the f*ck have you been?”

Rickie ignores the woman standing on the front steps, striding past her to unlock the front door. Sage follows, still asking about her whereabouts.

“As your superior, I command…”

Don’t pull that bullsh*t on me, Sage,” Rickie snaps, tossing aside her keys. They clatter against the kitchen table, and then slide off the edge. But, Rickie’s too preoccupied with brewing a cup of coffee to notice. Or to care.

“Do you need me to pull your head out of your ass?”

Get out.

The blonde crosses her arms over her chest, steadfast in her position by the kitchen doorway. Rickie is stubborn, yes, but Sage Kennedy most certainly takes that superlative. The redhead seethes.

Sage. Get the f*ck out of my house.”

“You don’t scare me.”

The two women stare at eachother for what seems like hours; a mug is clutched tightly in Rickie’s fist, and in her obstinate (yet unwarranted) rage, she’s halfway tempted to catapult it across the room. Might as well be as childish as possible, right? Finding Sage’s calm, blue eyes too infuriating to meet, Rickie turns away, resuming the endeavor for hot coffee.

“Erica.”

Her name sounds wrong coming from Sage’s mouth, even considering their history. “You know I hate my real name.”

Sage cants her head to the side. This is the first time Rickie has ever expressed genuine, raw hatred for her given name. Sure, the redhead has always been affectionately referred to as ‘Rickie’ – to the extent that she introduces herself to new people as such. But, Sage has never, in 6 years of knowing her, been witness to such vehement abhorrence. With a sigh of resignation, the blonde unfolds her arms, and begins to retreat. She knows that some battles just can’t be won.

“You know, Stone Wall,” she says, turning back momentarily to face the woman she had once married, “It’s a lonely world if you don’t let people in.”

June 16, 2018 09:44 pm

Erica Stone

“You know, the ice cream is going to melt if you keep the door open like that.”

Rickie doesn’t look away from the shelved tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, finding the cold air on her cheeks refreshing. She knows Sage is looking on with the same concerned expression that she’s worn for the last few days, and it makes her wonder why her ex-wife has been so cordial since their reunion. The divorce had been mutual, sure, but they’d quickly fallen out of touch thereafter.

“You’re breaking my heart, kid. Just pick something. Better yet, screw the ice cream. Let’s go out tonight.”

No.

“Why not? It’ll be fun.”

Sage.

“It’s been seven years. You owe me a drink.”

Sage is right: it’s been almost a decade. There’s no doubt that the two women share fond memories of their college years together. Rickie knows that the very least she can do for the woman is buy her a drink, especially with all the unexpected (yet, much appreciated) compassion and patience she’s shown. The alternative to going to a bar, of course, would be to watch HGTV in the dark with a tub of The Tonight Dough alone, and the thought makes Rickie sad. So, with a sigh, she nods, eliciting a celebratory exclamation from the blonde.

Don’t make me regret it.

“When have you ever regretted a night out with me?”

-           -           -           -

That night, there’s a surprising amount of traffic flowing in and out of the bar. Rickie feels rather out of place since Sage seems to know everyone and their brother. The blonde pushes her way to the edge of the bar, and signals to the bartender.

“Two Bud Lights.”

UnrealPiss in a bottle.

“Wasn’t lying when I said I still drink ‘em.”

Rickie, for the first time in days, laughs. It’s a different set of facial muscles than she’s used to, almost leaving her cheeks sore. Generally, she’s frustratingly stoic: reluctant to show even the slightest hint of emotion, and ashamed when she breaks from her normal demeanor. But, Sage always had a natural talent for breaking down Rickie’s hard exterior. Only one other person in the world was capable of doing the same: Zara.

Stop dwelling.

Now is not the moment to get stuck on the thought of a woman she had lost because of her own stubbornness. 

You love her, though.

That much is true. Rickie knows it always will be, too.

Just be here.

It’s near impossible, but Rickie manages to push the thought of her own folly from her mind. The image of Zara, however, remains emblazoned in her memory. Troubled and desperate for relief, the lieutenant orders a round of shots for her group of new friends (read: of people Sage introduced to her). There’s a cheer, the sound of glasses clinking, and then the undeniable burn of tequila at the back of her throat. It makes her gag, but it provides a temporary distraction from the terrible emptiness in her chest.

By the end of the night, Rickie’s leaving the bar with an arm wrapped around a petite woman with cropped hair. They’re both clearly inebriated as they tumble into the back of an Uber, whispering about nothing of substance. For a moment, when the woman leans in to pull Rickie into a kiss, the redhead doesn’t feel as empty as before. But, the fulfillment is short-lived.

I’m really sorry, but I can’t do this. It doesn’t feel right.

Rickie gently pushes the woman from her lap. Her frustration is palpable as she runs her fingers through her short, red locks, eyes clamped shut. She finds herself trying to express just what’s preoccupying her attention, but the woman holds up a hand. She’s surprisingly sympathetic, albeit clearly a little dejected.

“You don’t owe me an explanation. I hope you work through whatever it is that’s bothering you, Rickie,” she says before pressing a kiss to her cheek, “You deserve to be happy, too.”

The last part comes as a revelation, and it strikes at Rickie’s heart like a sledgehammer. She regains the majority of her sobriety in that moment, although there’s still a slight buzz in the back of her skull. She does, however, have a clear enough conscious to know just who’s she’s calling once the woman leaves.

“Hello?”

Zara’s voice takes Rickie by surprise, and it takes the redhead a few agonizing moments to recollect her thoughts. She hadn’t anticipated actually having to talk.

Good planning, Stone.

“It’s late.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry for waking you.”

“I was up.”

“Do you hate me? It’s okay if you do. It’s better than nothing at all, I guess.”

The sound of rustling sheets, a suppressed cough. Rickie doesn’t give Zara much of a chance to respond. Her head is swimming in unfinished thoughts - there’s so much she wants to say, so many things she knows she needs to apologize for. But, the words are stuck in her throat, and they burn like the tequila from hours prior. 

“I... I lo-”

Say it. 

“I should go. It was good to hear your voice.”

The call ends just as quickly as it began. With a shaky breath, Rickie presses the heels of her hands against her forehead, frustrated with the emotion swelling in her chest. 

Give it up, Stone. It’s done.

But, Rickie Stone has never been one to give up. Not on something that can be fixed, or on something she knows is right. Although she might not know how to climb out of the grave she dug for herself, she’ll find a way.

Somehow.

June 17, 2018 10:12 pm

Erica Stone

A few days have passed since Rickie’s spontaneous, semi-drunk phone call to Zara. It’s been radio silence from the West Coast, but she’s not bothered any more than before. It’s not like Rickie could sink any lower – she’s been at rock bottom since the bathtub incident, which had been briefly revisited the following afternoon. Sage had dismissed the apology politely, knowing only the most deep-seated desperation could’ve caused that momentary lapse in better judgement.

Rickie had tried to explain the situation, starting with the long period during which she and Zara were ‘frenemies.’ Sage listened diligently, only interrupting to confirm her own understanding. The two women quickly rekindled their love for one another, but in a very different way than 7 years ago. Then, they’d loved eachother vehemently – obsessively, even.  They’d been inseparable, possessive, jealous lovers, and in some ways, their relationship had been incredibly problematic. But, by some miracle, it worked, and together, the two women were happy. Now, after years apart, their love has matured, expressed through mutual respect, care, and platonic adoration.

“Don’t let her go,” the blonde says after Rickie has finished, “Don’t lose her like I lost you. You’ll regret it forever.”

You regret losing me?”

“I only said that to make you feel better.”

The redhead snorts, leaning over to bump her shoulder against Sage’s own. “I think I know what I have to do.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Rickie stands, holding out a hand for Sage, thereafter. Back in the house, she begins to collect all of Barney’s favorite toys. Sage, and the dog both look on with curiosity.

-           -           -           -

Alright, bud,” Rickie coos, collecting Barney into her arms for the last time, “Almost time to go.”

The spaniel licks at her face affectionately, making Rickie’s heart clench at the thought of having to part with him. She knows, however, it’s a necessary course of action. She presses a firm kiss to the top of his head, not quite ready to put him in the travel crate. The drive to the airport is agonizing; Sage tries to distract Rickie in every way she knows how, but the redhead is solely preoccupied by her dog.

“You sure you want to do this?”

No. But, I have to.

Rickie only nods in response, and Sage understands. Never good with words, but always heartfelt in her actions. Giving Barney up – quite literally Rickie’s best friend, and one true love – is something Sage never thought to be a possibility. But, when the redhead carries the dog and his crate through the sliding glass doors of the airport terminal, she knows it’s real.

You be good, okay?” she says, letting him down with the most heart-wrenching reluctance.

God f*cking damnit.

The airline staff member takes the leash from Rickie’s hand, and assures her that Barney will arrive in LA safely. He is, afterall, precious cargo.

“You really love that woman, huh?”

More than anything in this world,” she responds, voice cracking. Sage pulls Rickie into a tight hug just as they reach the car, and the two women stand there for an indiscernible length of time. The blonde knows that all Rickie needs right now is unwavering support.

In the coming days, back in LA, Zara will find an energetic King Charles Cavalier spaniel, and a handwritten letter attached to his crate. It’s short, but undeniably sincere.

Zara,

You deserve the world, and I couldn’t deliver. Here’s the biggest part of mine, I know you’ll be good to him. I hope someday you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me for the way I treated you.

I love you, always.

~Erica

It’s not a standard apology. In fact, most wouldn’t see it as an apology at all. But, Rickie hopes, beyond all hope, that Zara will understand the significance of this sacrifice.

June 18, 2018 10:51 pm

Erica Stone

“Come out with us. Bring your girlfriend.”

Rickie peers over her shoulder, cellphone pressed against her ear. Zara is wrapped up in a blanket, snuggling with Barney on the couch. The glow of the television screen illuminates her face, adding to the already-existing glimmer in her eye. Rickie finds herself smiling, heart swelling with the purest form of admiration.

Sage, I…”

“It’s Open Mic night at Coogan’s. Dale’s drunk already, and insists on going up.”

I don’t --“

“I’m hearing a lot of negativity right now. Just get over here, or I’m going to kick your ass.”

Threat, or promise?

“I mean it, Stone.”

Yeah, yeah. Fine.”

It’s another Tuesday evening, and the redhead had planned on enjoying the benefits of domesticity for once – popcorn, Netflix, stolen kisses, and a blanket fort. All in the company of her favorite person. But, of course, Sage had felt compelled to interrupt those plans since word had gotten out that Lieutenant Stone is a closet softie. Her squad had refrained from showing too much interest, knowing that Rickie values privacy and boundaries. Yet, there had still been quite a bit of chatter.

“I’ll be ready in 5,” Zara says, just as Rickie pockets her phone.

How did you…”

Zara’s already bounding up the stairs, blanket discarded haphazardly (dog, much less so). It doesn’t take the redhead long to get ready; a pair of jeans and a short-sleeve cotton shirt would suffice. She’s then back on the couch, scratching behind Barney’s ear and chuckling at another episode of iZombie. When Zara appears at the bottom of the stairs, however, she feels severely underdressed.

You said you’d be down in five.”

The smell of your perfume is floating down the stairs.
You're fixing up your hair like you do.
I know that I'll be a mess
The second that I see you.

Rickie stands, quickly making her way over to her girlfriend. She lifts a hand, and signals for Zara to turn.

I—I’m speechless.”

Staring at you, standing there in that dress
What it’s doing to me ain’t a secret.
‘Cause watching you is all I can do.
I’m speechless.

I’m gonna change,” she stutters, giving Zara another once-over. But, the smaller woman only shakes her head, beckoning to the door thereafter. Rickie helps Zara into the truck, just as she had on their first date. It gives her an excuse to cop a feel because damn, this woman looks fine in her backless sundress.

True to her riotous after-hours alter-ego, Sage greets the couple with unparalleled enthusiasm. A round of drinks is ordered promptly, and a round table procured by shooing lower ranked military personnel. Sage takes no time delving into all the personal questions she can think of.

“Where’d you meet?”

“How did you meet?”

“Was Rickie as awkward as she was with me?’

“Was it love at first sight?”

The couple exchanges a sideways glance, taken aback by the barrage of inquiries and unsure of how to proceed. It had been complicated, to say the very least. Rickie, admittedly, had been in love with Zara since the very moment she walked into Reed’s. Zara, on the other hand, hadn’t given the redhead a second thought. Or a first one, for that matter.

It started when you said hello.

Just did something to me,
And I've been in a daze
Ever since the day that we met.

“It didn’t,” Zara quips, hand reaching out for Rickie’s thigh, “You were actually too busy drooling to say hello properly.”

There’s a collective ‘ooh’ from the small crowd that had gathered around the table. Rickie recognizes a few faces from her squadron, but is still amazed by how many people had taken an interest; although, she’s not particularly surprised since she’s the newest lieutenant, and Colonel Kennedy’s ex-wife. She’d come to discover that Sage is rather well-known in the Fort Bragg community. She can’t decide if it’s a good or bad thing, given their history.

“Odds are you go up there, Stone Wall,” Sage declares after Zara slips off to the restroom.

No.

“You have a lady to impress.”

She’s already impressed, Sage.”

The blonde arches a brow. “Sounds to me like you got lucky with her.”

You’re not wrong.

Rickie squints, knowing that Sage only means it as a challenge. Downing the last of her beer, she flips the blonde off, stalking off in search of a guitar to borrow.

Just so everyone knows, Sage Kennedy coerced me into doing this,” Rickie deadpans, throwing an accusatory finger in the blonde’s general direction, “It’s been a long time since I’ve played, so you’ll just have to bear with me.”

The bar patrons laugh, and then settle as the lights dim.

F*ck me.

Zara, baby, please don’t break up with me.

It only takes a few chords for Rickie to regain some of the muscle memory. There’s no doubt that she’s out of practice, but it doesn’t sound half as bad as she’d been expecting. She spots Zara making her way back to the table; the woman gives a small wave, and an incandescent smile that makes Rickie’s heart skip a beat.

It’s always on a night like tonight.”

I think that you can read my mind.
‘Cause when you look at me with those eyes.
I’m speechless.

June 26, 2018 08:50 pm
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