– III –
Tara pushed closer to Mina’s warm body, snuggling as close as she could, hoping she could find peace in sleep the way Mina did. Tara ran her fingers through Mina’s russet curls, watching as they wrapped around her fingertips. The silkiness of her hair, so warm and touchable, drew a gasp from her lips.
She deserves better than me. She’s so happy and perfect and me, I’m just—I’m broken. I’m damaged goods. I’m—
A loud bang jolted her eyes open and she lifted up on all fours, her right hand sliding in something slick that sent her face first into the cold tile of the bathroom floor. Pain exploded in her cheek, and Tara yelped as the banging continued. She shivered at the chill crawling across her skin, slowly rising up once more, feeling a warmth spilling down her chin. Sitting back on her feet, she rubbed her arms to warm them, succeeding only in making herself colder.
The banging grew louder… Tara heard Mina’s cries mixing in with it as she begged and pleaded.
What is she begging for? Who is she pleading with? What is going on?
“Open the door! Please, baby, open the door and let me in!” Mina shouted, confusing Tara.
She’s begging me? Where’m I, that she needs to ask me to let her in?
Her vision blurred a bit, scaring her since the room was already dark. She shuffled over to a line of light broken by a moving shadow Tara figured must be her girlfriend. Her hands searched for the doorknob, slipping on the metal handle two or three times before managing to unlock the door. As it opened slowly, Mina careful of her proximity, Tara whispered, “We were snuggling… weren’t we?”
“You said you needed to pee,” Mina answered calmly, but her facial expression told Tara of the terror filling her. “I’m going to turn the light on, babe, because I need to see you.”
“I’m cold,” Tara whispered. “Can I have a blanket?”
The lights came on and Mina gasped. “Jesus… baby… we need to get you to a hospital.”
“No!” Tara forced herself to her feet. “They’ll tell me the same things they always do!”
“Tara, do you remember doing this?” Mina gently took hold of Tara’s right arm, her fingers like fire on Tara’s skin. “Do you?”
Tara shook her head. “I was snuggling with you. Your hair was warm on my fingers.”
Mina grabbed the hand towel, wrapping it tightly around Tara’s wrist. “If you’re not going to consciously seek help, I’m going to make you do it, Tara. I will not lose the woman I love. Do you understand, babe?”
Time blurred on by until Tara found herself curled up in the smallest ball possible at the head of her hospital bed. Her mother dozed in one chair, her father in another. Mina snuggled behind her, one hand splayed over Tara’s belly. Tara threaded her fingers through Mina’s, shifting to lay partially on her back. “Mina,” she murmured.
Mina nuzzled Tara’s cheek, ghosting a kiss over Tara’s lips. “’M here.”
“They have me on meds, don’t they?” Tara sought another kiss, and Mina deepened it briefly before she nodded, answering, “A mild sedative, due to the pain from the staples and to calm you.”
“I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t apologize, baby. Just promise me you’ll talk to me… or to someone. I can’t handle the idea of living life without you. Hell, it’s selfish of me to say, but I love you so much… and waking up beside you every morning is a dream I never want to wake from!” Mina sniffled, wrapping around Tara. “God, I swore I wouldn’t make it all about me!”
“I feel like I’m failing you, Mina. I feel like something in me broke when I killed that man—”
“But you didn’t. It didn’t. For the first time in your life, you made a decision about living and dying. You decided you weren’t ready to let go. In that moment, baby, you took the choice away from your attacker. Your reaction personified the Voltaire quote you like so much from The Crow—”
“It isn’t death if you refuse it.” Tara nodded. “I don’t want to die. I want to stop feeling broken.”
“Are you ready?”
Tara lifted her gaze to the door, where her mother stood in a pretty blue dress sprinkled with a pink and lavender floral pattern. Her airy white sweater matched the handbag in her left hand. Tara nodded, pushing her blue-streaked red hair over her shoulders, whispering, “Mom?”
Rebecca Webster crossed the room, reaching one hand out to cup Tara’s chin, her words quiet, “You are beautiful. You are a wonderful woman, you are my daughter, and I am so proud of you. Nothing will ever change that, Tara Diane; your dad and I couldn’t be prouder of you.”
“He found out in a way I didn’t—”
Rebecca smiled softly, shaking her head. “We already knew. You and Mina live in a one-bedroom apartment. You share a bed. I suspect you have since the first night she moved in. You do everything together. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”
“Is she ready?”
Tara blinked as Lee Webster strode over to her, his face pale and drawn as he bent to press a tender kiss to her tousled mane. “There you are, Tara-Tara.” His big hands carefully smoothed her hair, fingertips curling in the ends as he let out a ragged sigh. “I am so proud of you, dearheart.”
“Daddy—” She bowed her head, squeezing her eyes shut against the tears.
“Your Mina is one smart lady.” His hands framed her face, his thumbs drying her cheeks as he lifted her glistening cocoa gaze to his matching one. “She loves you.”
“I love her!” Tara cried, burrowing against her father’s chest as he sat on the edge of her bed. “You really still love me?”
Lee chuckled, enfolding her in a tight embrace. “Bunches and gobs, dearheart. Bunches and gobs.”
The long ride back to her parents’ rural home lulled Tara into an impromptu nap, one she woke from when their car finally ground to a stop on the gravel drive behind her father’s truck inside the Webster garage. Mina helped Tara out of the vehicle and into the house. As they laid down on the soft bed in the guest room, Tara told her lady, “Daddy likes you.”
Mina smiled widely. “I like him.”