I love her. God help me but I love her. I have loved her for as long as I can remember…probably since the first time we met. It wasn’t romantic and there weren’t any of those supposed fireworks…we just literally bumped into each other. Okay, the fact is that I plowed into her because I was late for class. We both mumbled apologies and went on our respective ways. Somehow we just kept bumping into each other after that, not literally. Our friendship grew and I fell for her…hard. Who wouldn’t? She was beautiful, sexy, smart, funny, sensitive, and so much more. I could fill pages and pages with reasons why I loved her, but that isn’t why I’m writing this. Suffice to say that I lost my chance to Beth because I was a fool.

You see, I had realized a while ago that I was gay, and I had already lost a few ‘friends’ because of that fact. I didn’t want her to be one of them. I was so concerned with how she would react to my sexual orientation that I never stopped to consider the possibility that she also lived on my little side of the fence. It stung when she came out to me and told me that she had found the woman of her dreams, but I got over it…or at least that’s what I told myself. I smiled and I told her that I hoped I’d be lucky enough to find that perfect woman myself some day. She looked at me a little oddly but never said anything except to accept my good wishes. We were friends, the best of friends, and if that was all we could be, then so be it. Still, I didn’t exactly wonder what my other friends were like in bed.

She would be caring, putting my needs first. She would take the lead, but only after she let me tell her what I desired. She would give herself to me as much as I would give myself to her. Sometimes I’d chastise myself for having these thoughts of her when she belonged to another, someone I was also coming to consider as a friend. Eventually there were others in my life…other women, but all of them were just pale imitations of her. All brunette. All close to her height. All with the same soulful brown eyes. God, I had it so bad, but I resolved never to let it show. Cass and Beth were happy and when they finally decided to move in together, I was happy for them. That was our big happy family…Cass and Beth, Sierra and Jesse, me and whoever was my flavor of the month. No one guessed at my secret, not until Jesse caught me.

I should have known that it would have been Jesse who figured it out. She was a deeply compassionate woman who always seemed to know what the people around her were feeling. I supposed that some underestimated her; their loss. She was wonderfully intelligent, amazingly observant and miraculously able to handle Sierra, which was often akin to training a rabid Rottweiler.

It was a searing day in July and we had decided to rent a beach house together. Yes, I know that Cassidy and Beth lived practically on the beach but what fun was having guests if you had to clean up after them? I was between flavors at the time so I showed up alone. I hadn’t wanted to come. Sometimes it was very depressed being the fifth wheel, but when Cass had looked at me with those puppy dog eyes I knew I was lost. So here I was, standing alone on the deck, looking at Cass and Beth walk hand in hand down the beach. A traitorous part of my brain whispered, it should have been you. There was so much love between them that I looked away…straight into the eyes of Jesse, who had come up behind me unnoticed.

“Are you ever going to tell her how you feel?”

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about Jess.”

“Uh huh…I’m not blind Anna, even if everyone else seems to be. I see the way you look at her; I hear the way your voice drops when you’re talking to her. Can you honestly look me in the eyes and tell me that you’re not in love with her?”

“Does it really matter Jess? You see how happy she is with Beth. She deserves that happiness more than anyone else I know. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for getting in the middle of that.”

“It’s going to eat you alive, sweetheart. Cassie is a big girl; she can handle it. Are you willing to spend the rest of your life casting sidelong glances at her?”

“If I have to. I love her enough to do that.”

You see, when I looked at her and Beth I saw something to be envied. I saw something that everyone wanted and few people ever found…and I thought that it would last forever. I thought that until the day Cass came to see me at the hospital. I had just finished my rounds and was getting ready to go home when Cass dragged herself in. Her eyes were red and I could tell that she had been crying. That in itself was of concern to me, but what worried me more was the fact that she had been drinking. I could clearly smell the alcohol and I wondered if she had been stupid enough to drive all the way here.

“Hey Anna, don’t worry…I took a cab here.” Her speech was a little slurred and there was a ghost of a smile on her lips, but it didn’t reach her face. I guessed that she was still coherent enough to know what I was thinking.

“Cass…babe…what are you doing here?”

“Would it…” She cleared her throat and I could tell that it was taking an effort for her to remain composed.” Would it be okay if I crashed at your place tonight?”

“Of course it is. You don’t even have to ask that”. I was a little surprised at the request. “What about Beth? Do you want me to call her? She’ll be worried if you don’t come home.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter to her.”

I knew Cass and I knew that I couldn’t push. She would tell me what was on her mind when she was ready, but right now I needed to get her home. If this was bad enough to start her drinking again, then it was bad. The hospital wasn’t the place for her to cry on my shoulder so I had her sit and wait for me while I gathered my things. Cass didn’t say a word to me again until we were safely at my home and I had made her shower and get some food into her stomach. I had a fire going in the living room: it was mid-autumn and there was a chill in the air. I sat next to her on the plush couch, one of the perks of a doctor’s salary, and I was determined to make her talk.

“Cass, sweetheart? Look at me. I know that whatever this is, it’s hard for you, but I can’t help you unless you tell me what’s wrong.”

“Everything Anna…everything’s wrong. My life is going down a fucking toilet and I don’t know what to do about it.” I had never seen her quite this worked up before, and there could be only one reason for it.

“Are you and Beth having problems?”

“There may not even be a Beth and I anymore, Anna. She’s seeing someone else.”

“What?” I was convinced that I had heard wrong “Are you sure?” I knew that Cass had a bit of a jealous streak and I didn’t want to see her beating herself up over something that probably wasn’t true.

“She told me. Things haven’t been right between us for a while Anna. I still don’t know what it was. Maybe we just stopped trying. Anyway, she told me that this guy at work had asked her out and she told him yes.”

“She’s seeing a guy?” Okay, evidently it was April 1st and no one told me. This had to be a joke. Why would anyone even think of leaving Cassidy? I felt as though my brain was shutting down.

“I love her Anna, but I don’t know if I can give her what she needs. She keeps telling me that she has to do this, that she’s confused. Well, so am I. I can’t leave her, not when there’s even a slight chance that I can prove to her how much I love her. If I could just make her see that we belong together. But how can I stay like this? He doesn’t even know about me. He thinks we’re just best friends. It kills me every time he calls, every time I see her with him, every time I smell his cologne on her.”

She started to cry then and I did the only thing I could…I held her until she cried herself out and fell asleep. I thought about calling Sierra but I knew that Cass would never forgive me if I did. I knew that I couldn’t call Beth. My anger and bewilderment would make civility impossible. So I just lifted her and took her up to my room…one of the advantages of my near six-foot frame. We slept together that night; not like that, get your mind out of the gutter. I suspected that my advances would not have been rebuffed but I could never take advantage of her like that. I knew that she would need the contact of another human being and I didn’t want her waking up alone in the night. We could talk about her drinking in the morning.

It continued like this for while…too long a while if you ask me. In that time, I saw the woman that I knew and loved fade away and I could do nothing about it. Cass wouldn’t let me. I did get her solemn oath that she would stay away from the alcohol. Cass had never been a flat out alcoholic but the temptation was there, and I knew how easy it would be for her to think that getting drunk was a way to keep the pain at bay. I don’t know if she kept her promise, but I never smelled alcohol on her breath after that.

My relationship with Beth went from being friendly to my hardly speaking to her at all. I couldn’t bring myself to. She was hurting Cass so much and I knew that Sierra was beginning to get suspicious. Jesse had asked me more than once if everything was okay. Why didn’t I say anything? Maybe I was deluding myself into thinking that it couldn’t get any worse; but that wasn’t it. I didn’t say anything because Cassidy begged me not to, and I was powerless to deny her. I should have been stronger.

There were dark circles under Cass’ eyes and she was losing so much weight. Her clothes just hung on her. Couldn’t Beth see? Was this ideal of having a traditional life worth what she was doing to Cass? I was the one who held her when she cried as if her pain would never end. I was the one who made sure she didn’t drown her sorrows in a bottle. I was the one who was there. It should have been Beth…she was the one that Cass still loved, not me.

Cass didn’t deal with pain well. I should have known that it was just a matter of time. I should have known that it would eventually be too much for her to bear. Maybe I just didn’t want to think that way…but I had no choice the last time she called. I could tell you every word that she said to me but I don’t want to. It hurts too much to remember. She was different that night…it was the first time she didn’t cry. I wish to God that she had. There was no emotion in her voice; it was almost as if she had stopped feeling altogether. And when she said goodbye…

So many things could have gone wrong. I could have taken my time answering the phone. I could have been at work. I still thank God that it was my day off. I remember praying harder than I had in my whole life on the trip over to Cass’ place, and it was a miracle in itself that I made it in one piece the way I was driving. I didn’t even think to call Beth. I damn near broke down the front door before I remembered that I had a key. My hands were trembling as I tried to get the key in the lock and I had to keep telling myself that I needed to stay calm. I practically ran through the house calling to Cass…but she wasn’t there. Then I found the note.

It was just sitting there on the kitchen table, folded as neatly as could be. It didn’t look dangerous or threatening but something compelled me to read it, and when I did it fell from my hands. I had to lean on the counter as a wave of dizziness tried to consume me. Oh God, what if I was too late? No, I couldn’t think like that…I couldn’t give up on her. But where was she? Where would she go? Then it hit me…Lakeview Bridge. There was a sense of irony there that wouldn’t have escaped her…it was where she and Beth had their first kiss; where they began. To her, it would be poetic justice.

I could only pray that I was right as I once again got into my car and took off. I was. I saw a figure perched on the railings as I drew closer and I knew that it had to be her. I cut the engine, got out of the car and started to run. I had to be in time, but I only got a chance to call out to her once…then she was gone. I swear to you now that my heart stopped beating for an instant and then I was running down the side of the bridge, my phone clutched in one hand. I swatted small branches out of the way even as I called for an ambulance. I hoped that I would have need of it and not a coroner. I must have stumbled and fallen at some point but I didn’t remember that until later, when I realized that my ankle was sprained. I got to the bottom in less than a minute and I jumped in the water. She had to be here…but I couldn’t find her.

I searched and searched, finally getting help from some drivers who had seen what had happened and actually stopped to offer assistance. We didn’t find her until a full three minutes later and by that time the ambulance had arrived. The paramedics were barreling their way down to us but I had no time to notice these things…Cass wasn’t breathing…but I made her breath. I prayed to any God who was listening and I did everything I could. Another irony…that was the first time I tasted her lips. How I wished it could have been under different circumstances.

The next few hours went in a blur. There were lights, and police officers, and explanations that needed to be made. Dr. Peter Brooks, Head Surgeon and my immediate boss, came down to tell me that I had the next few days off and that he would personally supervise Cass’ surgery. At least I knew that she could be in no better hands. Peter was one of the best damn surgeons in the country. They wheeled Cass off to the operating room and I finally got a chance to let the events sink in. I didn’t know if she would survive. I cried like a baby…then I called Beth. She wasn’t home so I tried her cell phone, and was enraged when I heard a man’s voice.

“Hello?”

“Uh…hello. I’d like to speak to Beth please.”

“Sure…hang on a sec.”

“Hello? This is Beth.”

“It’s Anna.”

“Um…Anna…this really isn’t a good time.”

“You need to get to the hospital right away.” I tried to control myself.

“Anna, what is it?”

“Cassidy tried to kill herself. She’s in surgery…I don’t know if she’ll make it. If you care at all just get here.” Then I hung up the phone. I knew that I had been harsh, but I didn’t feel much like being understanding at the moment…so sue me.

I changed my clothes, sat in the waiting area and did what I was supposed to…I waited. How many times had I seen people waiting in this very room for information on their loved ones? I had never been on this side of the fence before…it sucked. I kept thinking about how small Cass had looked when I pulled her out of the water. I could always lift her easily, with her being a full six inches shorter than me, but she had been practically weightless. I shuddered against the memory and tried to block it out. Beth got there about half an hour later. I knew that I should be angry but looking at her, all I felt was pity. She would have to live with this for the rest of her life.

“Hello Beth.”

“Anna, where is she? What’s going on? And what’s this?” She held out her hand and in it was the note, only now it was crumpled. I didn’t know if I had done that, or if she had.

“Have you read it yet?”

“Yes.”

“Then you know as much as I do. She tried to kill herself tonight. She took a dive off of Lakeview Bridge and she’d be dead already if I hadn’t gotten there. They still aren’t completely sure that she’s going to pull through.” I watched as Beth slumped in a chair.

“Oh God. What have I done? You must hate me.”

“I should, and I thought I would…but right now I’m too concerned about Cass to hate you.”

“That’s okay. I hate myself enough for everyone.”

Not everyone, I thought. If Cass doesn’t make it through this then we’ll have two dead bodies on our hands ‘cause Sierra’s going to kill you.

“That doesn’t matter right now Beth. We just need to wait and see what happens.”

We waited for about four hours before Cass finally got out of surgery. She was still unconscious and we wouldn’t know if there had been any brain damage until she woke up. The anesthesia should have worn off soon, so all we could do was sit and wait some more. I hadn’t wanted to call Sierra before because I knew that she would just be here pacing, but now was the time. When I got back, I saw Beth reading the crumpled note again.

“Beth?”

She jumped a little and turned to face me as I sat down.

“Hey, Anna.”

“How are you holding up, kiddo?” That had been a running joke between us even though I was only four years her senior. I really should have hated her for all the pain she put Cass through. God knows I’d hated her before, but she just looked so miserable that I didn’t have the heart to let my anger win out; not that it wasn’t there, just below the surface.

“Okay, I guess…I’m not sure. This all seems unreal, you know? Cassidy was always the strongest person I know.”

I leaned in and wrapped an arm around her, trying to give her what little comfort I could offer.

“Don’t give up on her yet Beth. She’s still in there somewhere and she’s going to need you when she finds her way back.”

“Isn’t that why we’re in this fucking hospital Anna, because I gave up on Cassie?”

Many thoughts ran through my head, and I was sure that many emotions were visible on my face. I knew then that this hadn’t been as easy as I had thought on Beth. A part of her still truly loved Cass. It was so easy to love her. Beth looked at me strangely and I was afraid that my eyes had given too much away…that my love had shone through.

“Regardless of what you think, I’m not here to pass judgment on you Beth. I don’t agree with you did and what you’ve been doing, but this is neither the time nor the place to get into that. The point is, there is a woman in there who would rather die than be without you and right now we still don’t have any guarantee that she’s going to make it. But if…when she does, are you going to be there for her or are you just going to get her hopes up and walk away?” I am ashamed to admit that a part of me wished that she would walk away.

“I don’t know if I can walk away again Anna. I don’t want to hurt her any more but I don’t think I can be a part of the life that she needs.” I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. “I don’t know if she can be a part of the life that I need.”

“You need to make that decision Beth. You can’t have it both ways. Not knowing whether you were going to walk out or you were going to stay was hurting her more than anything else.”

“I know I need to make things right Anna. I just don’t know how.”

She buried her head in my shoulder then, and I let her cry. I held her just as I had held Cass countless times before. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew that if…no, when Cass woke up I would never let her hurt like that again. Somehow, I would give her a reason to live.

“What the fuck is going on?!”

Sierra looked about as pissed off as I have ever seen her, and I couldn’t say that I blamed her. I left Beth’s side and made my way across the room. While I was pretty sure that I could take Sierra in a fair fight, I wasn’t about to try for Beth’s sake. Yes, I was starting to feel sorry for her, but the part of me that was loyal to Cass said that this was Beth’s mess and she had to get out of it on her own. I saw her give Sierra the note and decided this was a good time to go check on Cass…and ready a trauma team if necessary. Hopefully Jesse could defuse the situation until I got back.

I steeled myself to go into her darkened room and my heart fell when there was no reaction to my flicking the light on. I had hoped she would have awakened by now. I made my way slowly to the foot of the bed and read the chart there. She was going to be in some serious physical pain for a while…internal injuries, broken bones…a broken spirit. She looked so small lying there. I went and sat in the chair next to her and I couldn’t stop the tears that fell from my eyes. This was the woman that I loved and she was fighting for her life. I wished it was a battle I could fight for her. I would make sure she won. I took her hand in mine and hoped that she could hear me.

“Baby, you’ve got to open those beautiful brown eyes for me. Everyone’s waiting for you, Sierra, Jesse…even Beth. They’re all here waiting for you to come back to us. I don’t know what I’d do without you…I don’t ever want to find out. I love you Cass…I love you more than you’ll ever know. No matter what happens, I’ll take care of you…just…just come back to me.”

I kissed her hand and got up, intent on making my way back outside. That’s when I heard it.

“An…Anna?”

I spun around, convinced that I had been imagining things, but her eyes were slightly open and she was looking straight at me. I wanted to laugh to dance, and to burst into tears all at the same time. I didn’t care if she had heard me say that I loved her…we could deal with that later. The point was that now there would be a later. I ran to her side as she started to cough a little.

“It hurts.”

“I know it does baby. Let me get you something for the pain.”

“Wait….don’t go yet.”

“I’m not going anywhere. Are you okay for a while?” I sat next to her and took her hand again. She was obviously still feeling the effects of the anesthesia, and the battering that her body had taken.

“I’ll live…thanks to you.”

“I am so mad at you right now. How could you do something so stupid?”

“I had my reasons.” Another bout of coughing.

“I know what your reasons were. I read the note. Don’t you dare think that you have nothing to live for ever again, do you hear me? You have me…you’ll always have me.”

“It…it was just so hard.”

“I know angel…I know…but we’re here for you now, okay?”

“Is Beth outside?”

“Yes, she is. Would you like me to send her in for a little while?”

“I suppose we need to get this over with.” A pause. “She’s going to leave, isn’t she?”

“I don’t know, sweetie. Do you really want her to stay?”

“Not out of guilt.”

“She loves you Cass.”

“Yeah, just not enough.”

“We’ll deal with it…whatever happens, we’ll deal with it, okay?”

“Yes ma’am.” She squeezed my hand weakly and I left, dimming the lights on my way out. I didn’t want to go but I knew that there were some things she needed to work out now, and Beth needed to be there. Thankfully, when I got back to the waiting room, there were no signs of bloodshed.

“Beth? She’s awake. She’s asking for you.”

“How is she, Anna? Tell me the truth.

And I did. I told her the truth about Cassidy’s broken bones and all her injuries, but more important, I told her that Cass was alive. Sierra looked like she was on the verge of tears but I wouldn’t bet money on her crying in front of us. Beth, however, did burst into tears and ended up being comforted by Jesse. I couldn’t do it; not now. I just wanted to get back to Cass.

“Beth, I think you should go see her now…but not for long. She needs to rest.”

Sierra began to protest and I was 100% with her on that one. I didn’t want Beth to have anything to do with Cass right now. She was still too weak, too fragile…but like I’ve said, I could deny Cass nothing and right now she wanted Beth. We all watched her walk to the door and then go in.

“If she ever does anything to hurt Cassie like that again, I’m going to fucking kill her.”

You won’t have to Sierra. I’ll find a way to do it myself.

“Anna, sweetheart, how are you holding up?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess.”

I wasn’t surprised that Jesse asked the question. She was the only one who knew how I really felt about Cass. I looked fearfully at Sierra but she was off in her own little painful world.

“Anna.”

“I…I almost lost her tonight Jess. If I had been wrong…if I hadn’t gotten there in time…”

“Anna, tell me what happened? You found her?”

“Yes. She called me this morning and I could tell that she’d been crying. She told me not to worry about her anymore…that everything was going to be alright. I…I got scared. There was just something so empty in her voice. I went over and she wasn’t there. I found the note on the kitchen table and that’s when I knew what she was planning.”

“You knew about what was going on with her and Beth?”

“Yes.” I felt a twinge of guilt then, even there had been no accusation in Jesse’s voice. Maybe if I had gone against her wishes and told someone what was going on… “She didn’t want anyone to know. You know how Cass is…she didn’t want to admit that Sierra was right. I should have told you guys, but I honestly didn’t think that it would have gotten this bad.”

“How did you know where she was? I didn’t see anything in the note.”

“I remembered her saying that the first time she knew she loved Beth was when they looked at the sunset together from Lakeview Bridge. It was the night they first kissed…I just figured. I…I saw her jump, Jess. I called out to her but I couldn’t stop her. All I could do was get to the bottom and hope she was still alive.” How could I explain what it felt like to watch her fall from that damn bridge, not knowing if she would be alive by the time I got to her?

A lone tear made its way down my face and Jesse left me alone after that even though I knew that she still had a lot of questions. I would answer what I could later but right now my heart felt like it had been put through the wringer. I didn’t know what to feel…and I was worried about what was going on in that room. I found out soon enough for Beth came out after a while.

“I’m leaving her.”

“You’re doing what?” I nearly lost it then, Hippocratic Oath be damned. I just wanted to wring some sense into her, even as my more rational side said that it was for the best.

“I have to…. I can’t keep hurting her. She deserves someone who can love her and be there for her always. I can’t be that person. I think I’ve already proven that.”

I needn’t have bothered about losing my temper; Sierra did that for me and popped Beth one right in the face. She fell back against the wall and her hand went to her jaw, but she didn’t look surprised. I know I wasn’t. Still, I pulled Sierra away and back to Jesse…no need for any more of this tonight. The healing could begin tomorrow. I treated Beth’s bruised jaw and sent her home, where she could be out of harm’s way. Sierra wanted to go to Cass immediately, but Jesse held her back and told me to go in instead. I was a little surprised at this but her eyes were warm and encouraging. I wasn’t an opportunist. I wasn’t going to say that Beth was out of the picture and now I had my chance. I just wanted to be there for Cass and hope that one day I could be the one to help her heal…if she’d let me. I didn’t care how long it took. I loved her enough to wait a lifetime.

~~~~~~~~~~

So Sierra, Jesse…and Beth made it their mission to get us together. Surprised that I mentioned Beth? Well, there was a lot of talking and even more tears, but some wounds were mended and Beth was accepted back into our family, although she was on probation for a long while. They were so subtle about it too…you’d have to be as dumb as a rock to not figure out what they were trying to do. I’m sure they didn’t suspect that we knew. Cass and I used to laugh about it all the time. We both knew that she wasn’t ready yet…she needed to learn to trust again so I never pushed. I just kept on hoping that I could show her I’d always be there.

There wasn’t anything spectacular about that night…certainly nothing that would indicate it was going to be the night my dreams came true. We were having dinner at my place, which had become a regular occurrence on any night that I didn’t have to be on call. After dinner we just lazed around on the couch holding each other. Cass was fiddling with the remote and I had my eyes closed since I’ve never really been a big fan of television. I had almost dozed off against her when I heard Cass say something.

“Hmm? What was that babe?”

“I said that I just wanted to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For saving my life…for everything.”

I started to protest but she rested a finger on my lips and moved so that we were facing each other. I felt a little spark shoot through me.

“You saved me Anna…not just that night. You saved me from myself so many times. You’ve always been there for me and I don’t know how I would have gone on if it hadn’t been for you.”

She leaned to kiss me on the cheek and I think I gasped a little when I felt her lips on my skin. My heart was pounding out of my chest at having her so close like this. She pulled away a little and looked into my eyes, almost as if she were asking permission. I must have given it because she leaned in again, but this time she kissed me on the lips; soft and sweet. I felt my eyes closing and my hand snaked into her hair. She pulled away again and this time it was I who closed the distance between us. Our kisses grew more passionate and I opened my mouth to let her tongue in. I wanted more. I wanted to make love to her. I wanted to feel her deep inside me. I pushed her down into the couch and started working my way down her neck. I felt her hands make their way up my bare back under my blouse and I arched into the touch. My skin was on fire. I had wanted this so long.

We made love everywhere that night…on the sofa, in my bedroom, in the shower…um…on the kitchen table. I had never felt so much passion in my life. She was everything that I had imagined and more than I could have hoped for. I damn near lost my voice that night and I am blushing as I write this. In the morning, I knew that I could not spend another moment without her. I asked her to move in with me as soon as she woke up. She thought I was joking at first but then she said yes, and my heart leaped. We have been together ever since.

We are at Beth’s house now…all of us. Bethany and Adrian refuse to leave Cassie alone and, even though she professes to not being fond of children, I know that she loves every minute of it. My darling is nothing but a big softie at heart. I can see Beth looking at her and I feel the slight stirrings of jealousy, but then Cassie looks over to me and I can see the most precious love in her eyes. Beth will always have a place in Cassie’s heart but it is me that she loves now. She is carrying my child. A part of me is growing inside her…and it truly is a part of me. Cassie would have it no other way and she can be very persuasive. Each time I think about how much she has brought to my life, tears come to my eyes, as they do now. I look around…at Cassie… at Sierra… at Beth… at everyone, and I know that I have everything and everyone I need right here.

The End