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This is not a standalone story. Unless you have read the previous chapters, it will not make any sense. As always, I want to thank my editors, Terry and Snow. Both of them made this story possible. They contributed in so many ways, talking through scenes, deciding what to include or exclude, as well as just making sure that the spelling and grammar were right. They are amazing! I love both of you!
I also want to thank everyone who has commented or sent me emails. It was so nice to hear what you thought about Suzanne’s story. It means a lot to me to hear from you. That feedback is the fuel that fires the creative engine. I hope the conclusion is up to your expectations.
Over the next several weeks, Colby played a much bigger part in Suzanne’s life. Not only did she help Suzanne find a therapist, she made sure that there were no missed appointments. Having lunch together became a regular part of the day. While it wasn’t every day, Colby had dinner with Suzanne frequently enough that she was sure that Suzanne was eating healthier. The slide in her weight stopped and started to reverse.
As much as she wanted to, Colby didn’t ask Suzanne about her therapist appointments. It was intensely personal and if Suzanne wasn’t going to bring it up, Colby wasn’t going to either. It was good enough that Suzanne was taking the steps. Sometimes she seemed less depressed, but it was not consistent. There were bad days too, when in the evening Colby held Suzanne as she cried.
At work, Suzanne was too busy for the emotions to surface. Armed with the information collected on their trip back east, she had guided the new software through its final release. The launch consumed Suzanne, but she welcomed it. There was not enough time in the day to get everything done, but at least it left very little opportunity to dwell on her problems. It made it easy to keep up the illusion that she had it all together. Colby was the only one who knew her secrets, and she was an active participant in helping to hide them.
Without Colby’s support, Suzanne knew she couldn’t have managed to keep going. When she intervened, Suzanne was close to the breaking point. Handling the stress from the launch combined with her issues would have been too much. It wasn’t just the mental stress either. The mistreatment of her body was just as bad. After a few weeks with her therapist, Suzanne was finally seeing that. The awareness only helped so much. There were still days when she didn’t feel like eating, but Colby was always there to make sure she did. While there were moments when Suzanne resented it, the gentle pressure felt good most of the time. It was one of the few things in her life that made her feel loved.
Still, feeling loved didn’t help Suzanne with feeling worthy of love. The self-destructive impulses were getting fewer, but it was hard to find a way to forgive herself for what happened with Chloe. They did not happen as often, but there were still nights when she woke up in the middle of the night haunted by a dream of Chloe. Sometimes as she bolted upright in a cold sweat, her first thought was a wish that Colby was there to hold her. A feeling of shame always followed it. Part of why was a renewed feeling of betraying Chloe, but the other half was knowing that she wasn’t worthy of Colby.
Suzanne wasn’t blind. She knew how Colby felt about her. Sometimes when Colby held her, Suzanne felt her struggle to hold back from taking it a step further. Once or twice, Colby started to move as if to kiss her, only to pull back. Suzanne was thankful she didn’t go through with it. Their relationship worked right now. The support Colby gave her was the crutch that helped Suzanne through the day. Adding romance to it would have complicated it.
Some of Suzanne’s reluctance was almost normal. Office romances were messy and could have consequences, especially when they ended. The chances that anything with Colby would work out were low; Suzanne knew that. “I’m too damaged,” she told herself more than once. Even the thought of giving into her feelings for Colby was enough to send a wave of guilt through Suzanne.
More than the issue of working together, that was really the problem. Despite the time with her therapist, Suzanne still knew that she didn’t deserve happiness. Chloe may have stopped haunting her, but the guilt Suzanne felt was still there. Most of the time it was manageable, and it no longer intruded on her everyday life. It was only with Colby that it came back, and that was with a vengeance. The same person who comforted and supported her was the trigger point of her turmoil. With so many issues to talk about, Suzanne held back on bringing up her feelings about Colby with her therapist. She could feel her therapist working her way towards getting Suzanne to talk about it, but they were not there yet.
One reason for not dealing with Colby was Suzanne’s parents. Since returning from the east coast, she had not seen them once. They talked one more time after her father left his voice mail. It hadn’t gone well. Or maybe it went as well casino oyna as it could, given his beliefs. It didn’t make things any better either way for Suzanne.
It took Suzanne two weeks to find the will to return her father’s message. Her normal therapy sessions were late Friday afternoon. She spent much of the time that day talking about her parents and their homophobia. While her therapist had not suggested talking to her father, Suzanne came home feeling a little more courageous than normal. As was usual any day she had therapy, Colby came over to make sure that Suzanne was okay.
They were eating dinner when Suzanne looked up from her food. “I was thinking about calling my dad. We haven’t talked since before the trip,” she said.
“Oh. What were you thinking of saying to him?” Colby asked. “Just catching up, or more?” The look Suzanne gave her was calm but behind the mask, Colby could see the fear that was there.
“More. He made some assumptions in his voice mail. I need to let him know they are true. I need to at least own who I am,” Suzanne said. Her voice was tight, but under control.
“Well, okay. Let’s finish eating and then I can leave you alone if you want,” Colby started to say before Suzanne interrupted her.
“Please don’t. I’d rather you stayed.”
Nodding, Colby reached out to squeeze Suzanne’s hand. “Of course I will.” She gave Suzanne a little smile when she felt her squeeze back. The rest of dinner was relatively quiet.
While Colby cleaned up, Suzanne went into the living room. Sitting down on the couch, she tucked her long legs under her. For a few minutes, she just sat there holding her phone. Finally, she pressed the speed dial for her dad’s cell phone. Calling the house wasn’t an option. She could barely have a conversation with her father. She wouldn’t even consider trying to talk to her mother. The phone rang for long enough that Suzanne thought it would go to voice mail. At the last second, she heard her father answer.
“Hello Suzanne,” he said. His voice lacked the warmth that it usually had when they talked. It was not unfriendly but there was a reserve to it that wasn’t normal.
“Hi, Dad,” she responded. There was a moment of silence as if neither one of them wanted to start the conversation. Finally, Suzanne went first. “Sorry I haven’t called you back before this. I wasn’t sure what to say.”
“I understand,” he replied.
“And then when I was sure, I was afraid to call,” Suzanne quietly said. She took a deep breath. “Because I can’t live a lie anymore. It’s hurting me too much to pretend to be something that I just am not. And I know what that means, for you and Mom. So I put it off.”
“What you are saying hurts us, Suzanne. It goes against what we believe and how we’ve lived our lives. Your mom and I talked about it and we’ve tried, but we can’t give our approval to it. It’s sinful. We can’t condone sin,” he replied. It might have been easier if he spoke harshly, but Suzanne could hear his pain in his voice.
“We love you, and hope that you can find your way back to God,” her father continued, “but we can’t tell you it is okay. We’ve talked about it and it will be best if we don’t see you.”
Suzanne expected this but it was still a blow when she heard him say the words. She let out a long sob. Hearing that, Colby came over with the box of tissues and sat down beside Suzanne. Handing her one, Colby gave her a little hug.
“Thanks,” Suzanne whispered. As she dabbed at her eyes, she turned her attention back to the phone. “No Dad, I wasn’t talking to you. I was telling a friend thank you for handing me something to wipe my eyes. This is hard.” Sitting down, Colby kept one arm around Suzanne. She could hear Suzanne’s father say something else that caused her to tense up for a second. When she spoke again, her voice was hard. “No Dad, she isn’t my girlfriend. She’s a friend, a good friend who understands what I’m going through. And yes, she is a lesbian too.”
Colby gave Suzanne another little squeeze. Part of it was to reassure Suzanne that she was indeed there for her. There was another little part that was just for Colby, a consolation prize for only being a friend.
“Fine, I understand,” Suzanne said, her voice losing that hard edge. The pain of the break with her parents was clear. “I love you, and tell Mom I love her too. I hope one day you can accept me.”
“We love you too and we will be praying for you,” her father replied. The pain was evident with him too. Neither one of them held out a lot of hope for the change each wanted.
“Bye,” Suzanne said as she ended the call. Turning, she buried her head into Colby’s shoulder and really let the tears go. All Colby could do was hold her. Words weren’t going to make this right. She had never met Suzanne’s parents and right now, Colby hoped she never would. So much of Suzanne’s pain was their fault. Their religious bigotry intruded into her life from an early age. It kept her from exploring healthy relationships and filled her with guilt for wanting what was natural for her. Just slot oyna thinking about them filled Colby with a slow burning anger. She hugged Suzanne tighter.
“Thanks, Colby,” Suzanne said as she tried to stop the tears. “You are always here for me.”
“I always will be,” Colby said as she pulled back to look at her friend. Despite the smeared mascara and crushed expression, she thought Suzanne was as adorable as ever. If anything, her unhappiness made Colby want her more. It took all of her willpower not to kiss Suzanne. As much as she wanted to, Suzanne needed a friend more than anything else. Closing her eyes so she couldn’t see the pretty face in front of her, Colby put her head on Suzanne’s shoulder to give her another long hug.
They stayed like that for a long time before getting up to finish putting things away from dinner. Suzanne didn’t want to be alone so Colby stayed to watch some television. With Suzanne leaning up against her, clutching her hand, it was hard for Colby not to imagine they were a couple. “Maybe someday,” she thought when she finally left for the night. The memory of Suzanne pulling her into a hug and kissing her on the cheek stayed with Colby. It made sleep hard to find that night.
The situation with Suzanne’s family was much the same a month later. Her mother called her a couple of times to beg Suzanne to come back to God. As much as she tried to stay calm, Suzanne couldn’t avoid getting angry with her. She didn’t quite hang up on her, but her curt goodbye cut her mother off mid-sentence to end each call. It took Suzanne some time to calm down enough to get back to what she was doing before.
For that reason, it surprised her one day at work when she looked at her work phone and saw that it was her father calling. Suzanne almost didn’t answer. She didn’t want to make things worse by fighting with him. At the same time, with the help of her therapist she was trying to face her personal issues. “I can’t avoid him,” she thought to herself. Taking a deep breath as she shut the door to her office, she answered his call.
“Hi Dad. What’s up,” Suzanne said. She tried to give it a cheery tone.
Her father’s voice was ragged. “Suzanne, your mother … She passed away. I came home from work when I couldn’t reach her and found her on the couch. I don’t know, the medics are guessing it was her heart.”
Suzanne sank down onto her chair. The darkness that had been slowly lifting descended in an instant. The words of the doctor all those years ago rang in her mind. It didn’t matter that she knew deep down that they probably weren’t true. She felt the guilt all the same. “Oh Daddy. I’m sorry,” she managed to say as she began to cry.
“It looks like maybe she took a nap and just never woke up,” her father said. He hadn’t been crying when he called but hearing Suzanne was enough for him to start too. “At least it was peaceful. She’s with God now, and with David.”
“Daddy, there is nothing that I need to get done here at work. I can be there in a little while,” Suzanne said.
“Suzanne, no. I’ll let you know if I need anything. The pastor is here, and some friends. I’m sorry but this doesn’t change things with you. Come back to God, and you are welcome home,” her father told her. He wasn’t angry. If anything, his voice held even more sorrow than when he told her about her mother.
“Daddy, please. You need me,” she said. His rejection felt like a body blow.
“God is all I’ve got left, Suzanne. It will have to be enough,” he replied. “I’ll let you know if I need help and I will tell you when we get the services set. It’s probably going to be this Saturday.” He paused for a moment. “I need to go, honey.”
Suzanne was crying so hard she could barely hear him. She mumbled something in reply.
“Suzanne?” Her father asked. When she didn’t reply, he repeated himself. This time she muttered “What?”
“Honey, it’s not your fault. It was just her time. Her heart was sick and had been for a long time. God called her home. This didn’t happen because of you, okay?” He spoke urgently, wanting to make sure she heard him. “This would have happened no matter what.”
Even though she heard the words, Suzanne couldn’t push the feeling of causing this away. Guilt was such a familiar companion. For years now, she struggled with it. Although she was starting to cope with her feelings about Chloe, it was still natural for her to accept guilt without questioning it. The sense of responsibility for her mother was overwhelming. It combined with the realization that her last conversations with her mother ended with anger. She would never get a chance to correct that.
“I have to go,” Suzanne sobbed into the phone. “Bye Daddy. I love you.” She ended the call before he could say anything else. Leaning back in her chair, she let it all come out. Her body shook with the force of her crying though it was mostly quiet.
Still, Colby had a sixth sense that something was wrong. Going to Suzanne’s office, she saw the shut door. She only hesitated for a second and then opened the door. canlı casino siteleri Hearing the door open, Suzanne looked up at Colby with eyes that were already turning red. “My mom died. Another heart attack,” she told her friend.
Crossing the space instantly, Colby put her arms around Suzanne and gave her a long hug. “Sweetie, I’m so sorry,” she softly said. She felt the sobs grow stronger as Suzanne let her grief flow. All Colby could do was keep holding her.
Not having closed the door, it wasn’t long before Jim showed up to see what was wrong. While Suzanne wasn’t wailing, the sound of her crying attracted attention. He looked at Colby holding her. It was common knowledge that the two were close. While there were rumors, he didn’t think they were true. He could tell that Suzanne was going through some rough times. Helping Suzanne with her issues just made him thankful for Colby in a completely new way. He liked Suzanne as a person even more than he appreciated her being a great employee. Colby seemed to be able to help her far more than he ever had.
Looking over at him, Colby gave him a sad smile. “Her mom just passed away,” she whispered. Suzanne was clinging to her with her face buried in her shoulder.
“Oh God, Suzanne, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Jim said. “Don’t worry about us, just go home.”
Knowing that Suzanne was barely there, Colby took charge of her. “I know, Jim. We are okay for now. When she is ready, I’ll take her home. I’m going to take a day or two off to help her. Her family situation is complicated,” she said.
“Of course, take what you need,” Jim said. “And of course that goes for you too, Suzanne. There is bereavement leave and you have lots of vacation available.” He met Colby’s eyes and spoke in a low voice to her. “Let me know if you need anything.” She gave a tiny smile and nodded. Stepping out of the office, Jim shut the door.
Slowly the first wave of grief began to ebb. The feeling of comfort from being held by Colby sank in and Suzanne clung to that support. When all that remained was some gentle weeping, Colby left Suzanne sitting in her chair. Carefully saving everything Suzanne was working on, she shut down the laptop before going out to her desk to do the same thing. Grabbing her purse, Colby hurried back to Suzanne. She paused for a moment to look at her. Suzanne was just staring out her window. Colby could see tears rolling down her face but there was otherwise no sign that she was still crying. Feeling her heart wrench, Colby thought, “She’s been through so much. Now she has to deal with this too?” She made a mental note to try to get an extra appointment for her with her therapist. “She’ll need it,” Colby told herself.
“Come on, sweetie. Let’s get you home,” Colby said aloud. She went over and put her arm around her friend. Suzanne slumped against her as they walked out of the office. “It’s okay. I’m going to take care of you,” Colby said as they went down the stairs and headed to her car.
For the next few days, that was all Colby did. Most of the time, Suzanne was curled up on the couch. Colby made sure that she ate something. It was never as much as Colby would have liked, but it was enough. After hardly talking the first day, Suzanne began to open up to Colby. She still was on the verge of tears and sometimes past it, but she started telling Colby about her mom.
It was a new side for Colby to see. Everything that Suzanne had told her up to now about her mother wasn’t flattering; her bigotry, how she kept pushing Suzanne about men, and her unwillingness to even consider accepting the reality about her daughter. Despite never having met her, Colby had a visceral dislike. Now that she was dead, Colby felt a little ashamed of that.
For the first time, however, Colby was hearing about a different side of her mother. Suzanne was telling her about when she was young and happy. David was still her beloved older brother and Suzanne didn’t have to deal with questions yet about whether she liked boys or girls. There was the time her mother took them to the zoo in Seattle. Suzanne pulled her mother along by the hand, wanting to see everything. Laughing in a way that Suzanne hadn’t seen in years, her mother indulged her daughter. Even then, she was heavy, but she walked for hours so that Suzanne could get to every part of the zoo.
Suzanne told Colby about when she was ten and she asked her mom to make a pie out of the blackberries she had collected with David. Instead, her mother taught her how to make the pie, showing her all the steps that Suzanne’s grandmother had taught her mother. Smiling, Suzanne recalled how it was the ugliest pie she had ever seen, but it tasted great. “I’ll make you one,” she told Colby. “They’re not as good as Mom’s but I make a pretty good pie.”
As she listened, Colby saw a little glimpse of that girl from long ago. Even with the sorrow that never left, Colby could see some of the pain fade away, even if no one else would have caught it. It made Suzanne look years younger. Her teary eyes lit up as Suzanne recalled a prank that she had goaded David into pulling. It got him in trouble with their mom while her role stayed secret. Even though it would have lessened his punishment, David hadn’t betrayed her. He never did. He was always her protector.
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