Fresh Start Ch. 05: Into the Woods

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Welcome to the next chapter in the lives of Nell, Emma and Liz. If you haven’t read about them before, I highly suggest you do, or you will be lost. They are worth the time. This is a long-haul love story.

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I was back on campus two days a week. My one class was not nearly as stimulating as last semesters had been. Nell and I were in the cafeteria having lunch, we planned to as much as possible. I was only two days in, and it was ridiculously hard not to touch her as we sat at the table. We weren’t keeping our relationship secret, but also not advertising it while on campus. Things would be much easier when I was done with this damn degree.

We walked out together when she had to go back to teaching. With goodbye, unsaid was love you, see you later and more. She still sent butterflies through my body when I saw her, kissed her, touched her.

At home, I wasn’t surprised to see Liz’s Charger in the driveway. While she was genuinely happy for me and Nell, she was still a little worried things with us would be different. Too different. They had been different when I was married, then it was just us and my kids. Now it was different again. So, she came around when it was just us and I let her. I needed her to know she had been the one constant in my life for the last nearly 34 years. She was going to be the constant for the rest of my life no matter what. I still wished she would give a relationship besides the one with me, a chance. At least be willing to think about it.

She had tea water going. I dropped my school bag at the door and made my way to the kitchen.


“Hey sweetie, how was school?” She had a freaking apron on. I couldn’t hold in my laughter.

“Are you channeling June Cleaver?” I took the tea she handed me. The warm liquid relaxed me nearly instantly.

“Hardly my dear. I think we more resemble the Brady Bunch now.”

I couldn’t help myself from smiling. “So, are you Jan or Marcia?” I voted for Jan. She was nearly as dramatic as Liz.


“Oh. So, if you’re Alice, does that mean I don’t have to cook or clean ever again… you’ll take care of it?”

“Absolutely not darling.” She broke out her best horrible accent for that.

I giggled. “I’m going to shower before the kids get home is that okay with you?”

“Yes please. Then we are going out to dinner. Don’t worry I already told your chick.”

I stopped and stared at her, took a deep breath. “You what?”

“I politely summoned your amazing girlfriends’ presence at a dining establishment of my choosing, for sustenance and libations, with us, this evening. You can decide if the minions are coming.”

I shook my head. “And how did you go about this…request?” I put nothing past Liz when it came to getting something she wanted, so a myriad of scenarios played out in my head on how she ‘summoned’ Nell.

“I used technology to form words and sent it out into the universe.”

“You texted her?” I had no idea they had each other’s cell numbers.

“Yes, not so quick one. I texted her. She agreed and will be here at 5:30.” She pushed me gently out of the kitchen, taking my not yet finished tea out of my hands. “Go shower… be gone with you.”

I couldn’t help but smile as I went upstairs. I knew Nell was still teaching but texted her anyways.

Me- I hear your presence has been requested. You can say no. It’s okay if you say no

I jumped in the shower. When I got out and was getting dressed my phone went off.

Nell- I don’t want to say no.

Me- good. I don’t want you to either. See you in a few hours. ??

Nell- see you. ??u

I went downstairs and sat with Liz. She made us more tea. She was around so much more now than she had ever been. I loved it. She was my rock, my constant.

“Still going camping this weekend?”

“Yep. Are you still going to provide childcare to your godchildren?”

“If I must.”

“You must.”

“Are you certain she can handle winter camping? ” Liz had already told me this might push Nell over the edge. But this was who I was. Plus, it wasn’t super cold, at least during the day. I had a winter tent and a small tent heater I would bring. There was no part of my plans that included her having the slightest chance of being cold at night. None.

“Aren’t you the one who told me months ago, to be myself with her? This is me Liz. She doesn’t have to come any more than you’ve ever had to come. I won’t be offended if this part of my life isn’t for her. But she said yes. She may come once and never again, but she said yes.” It was something I had to try with her. This was me. At my core. Liz was proof you didn’t have to part of that side of me to be in my life. But I couldn’t lie, I hoped she would like it. I wanted her to want to be in nature with me. Even if it was only occasionally.

She didn’t get a chance to reply, the twins burst through the door and were fighting. I took one look at Liz and we both said, “No kids.” We were casino şirketleri still laughing when they came into the kitchen. They were still arguing. There was no part of me that felt like dealing with them, so I took my tea and went into the living-room. Liz was telling them both off and soon joined me.

“Where are we going tonight?”

She had flung her legs at me, apparently wanting a foot rub. I obliged. Jacklyn walked by and gave us a look and made a face. “Weirdos.”

I shot Liz a ‘do not engage the teenager’ look. “So? Where are we going?”

“Jae’s. If that’s okay with you.” Her eyes were closing as she spoke. She rarely asked if her choices were okay with me. This balancing act was a little harder than I thought it would be. Managing two kids was different than making sure I didn’t hurt two grown women I loved.

“It’s perfect.” I smiled at her even though her eyes were now closed. I sat with her a few more minutes until the change in her breathing told me she had fallen asleep. I covered her up and went back into the kitchen. Ashe was still in there…eating of course.

“We are going out to dinner tonight so you two are on your own.” I sat in awe at the amount of food he was eating for a ‘snack’.

“Okay. Are you still going camping this weekend?”

“That’s the plan.” Nell wasn’t the type to cancel plans.

“The weather looks perfect. I’ll get everything ready for you tonight, if you want. Are you bringing the small heater?”

“You don’t have to do that Asher.”

“I know. But I can and will. I don’t mind.” He had somehow eaten everything and was hunting for more food.

“Thank you. And yes, the small heater.”

“Hike in or drive in?”

“Both. Going to the state forest. So, we can park by the gate and hike the rest of the way in. I don’t want her first experience to be too rustic. I’m trying not to scare her off.”

“Hopefully she doesn’t scare easy. I’ll get everything ready for you while you’re gone tonight. Can you bring me back food?” He was never going to miss the chance for more food.

I almost asked if he was sure he would even be hungry by the time we get back, but I knew he would be. He was always hungry. “Of course.”

He left and I opened my laptop and started working on some school stuff while Liz slept. I was totally lost in writing when Liz and Nell’s voices pulled me from the world I was creating in Word. They walked in and I got a kiss from Nell. I wished for a moment Liz wasn’t here, the kids weren’t here. A small sigh escaped, then guilt for feeling that way crept in.

“Emma, why on earth did you let me fall asleep?” Liz was rubbing her eyes, she looked so sweet all sleepy eyed.

“Let you? I’m sorry I should absolutely have shaken you awake, or maybe poured water over your snoring self. Next time I will. Promise.” I packed up my laptop and school stuff.

She scoffed, “I do not snore.” She looked legitimately offended.

“Okay princess. You don’t snore. Whatever you need to tell yourself.” I took a teabag to the shoulder for that remark.

Nell was just standing next to me watching us. We needed this weekend just us. She was amazing at being around my crazy family, but we needed alone time. She still wouldn’t stay over with the kids here. If we had a chance of making this into anything more, she needed to be okay with that. My kids weren’t going anywhere. It was something I planned on really talking to her about when we were fully alone.

“I’ll drive. If that’s okay with everyone.” Again, Liz was making sure things were okay with us. This was new. I liked it. Maybe she was growing as a person. Maybe.

Twenty minutes later we were being sat at Jae’s. I loved Korean food and they had a lot on their menu. Drinks arrived and we ordered food. Nell and I were next to each other, Liz across from us.

“So, Teach, you’re really going camping with this one?”

‘This one’. Seriously Liz? I wanted to say something to her but didn’t. I didn’t need to jump to my own, or Nell’s rescue.

Nell didn’t even pause. “Yes. I’m looking forward to it.”

“To sleeping on the ground. In the cold. Eating over a campfire. You are a better woman than I.”

“I doubt that, but I like the outdoors, maybe not as much as Emma and I’ve never camped like that, but I’m willing to try. I’m fairly certain Emma will take good care of me.” My thigh got a squeeze as she spoke.

Oh, I planned to take very good care of her. “Okay Liz, can we just enjoy our meal?” I didn’t know why I was getting so annoyed with Liz’s questioning of Nell, but I was. Actually, I knew. I was afraid she wouldn’t like this weekend, at all. That I would love someone who didn’t want anything to do with such a huge part of who I was, again. Dean never did, Liz didn’t. Jacklyn stopped liking it. Had I found another person who wouldn’t? I tried to shake the worry from my brain.

The rest of the meal was idle chit chat. I was quiet. Liz was not. She didn’t come in after the meal. “Sorry ladies, but I have an early morning and need to get home. Thank you both for coming tonight.” casino firmaları I saw more in her eyes but said nothing.

We got out and I asked Nell if she was coming in. She wasn’t. She had classes early. We said goodnight and I went inside. The kids were still awake. Asher had done what he said and most of my winter camping stuff was all gathered, gone through and ready for me to pack into my vehicle tomorrow. All I needed to do was pack food and my clothes.

I got ready for bed, said goodnight to the kids then crawled into my empty bed.


“Ashe, just double check the propane for the heater for me okay?” The camping gear was almost all packed and Liz would be here soon. It was 9:15 and I was supposed to be picking Nell up at 10.

“I told you already, it’s set. You’re only there for one-night mom, you’re set.” He was getting exasperated with me. I was bouncing around like I had never camped before. I walked around to the back to check myself. “Mom, stop. Everything is set, you have what you need. Relax.”

My 16-year-old was trying to calm me down. I chuckled at our role reversals. Just then, Liz arrived. I walked her inside. “Emma, I don’t need to be told what to do. I’ve got the kids. They will eat and be fine… go. Now!”

“Fine.” I gave her a hug and told the kids goodbye, then left.

I pulled into Nell’s and walked up to the front door. She opened it as I approached.. ponytail, glasses, perfection. It had only been nearly 6 months since I walked into her classroom. My life had changed so much since that day.

I skipped the polite ‘good morning’ and replaced it with kissing her. She was still barefoot, so I didn’t have to stretch as much as normal to claim her lips. It took a while, but eventually we managed to get her stuff to the vehicle and were on our way. It was only a thirty-minute drive to the state forest I had picked. It was technically closed for the season, so I parked off to the side of the gate. There were no other cars around.

I knew which site I wanted, and it wasn’t a very long trek in to it. Two trips in and everything was at the site. I had camped here many times with the kids. The main selling point was the proximity to a composting bathhouse. This was a site I only used in the winter because there was almost no shade. The sky was clear today, so the full sun exposure was perfect for us.

“Can I help?” She was standing there while I was getting the site ready and started putting the tent up. I was used to either doing it myself or having Ashe help.

“Sure.” Her willingness to help was a good sign. We got busy getting everything done. Soon, the tent was up, I had even brought two brand new self-inflating camping mattresses. I wanted her as comfortable as possible.

“Lunch?” She agreed and we made sandwiches at the picnic table. After we ate, I walked the food back to my vehicle. Hiking was next. She had done this with me before. It wouldn’t be a long a hike distance wise, but the elevation gain was going to be more than triple the first long one she had gone on. The view from the top of this trail was even better than the vista I had shown her that day.

I led the way to the trailhead, had already warned her about the elevation gain. She assured me she would be fine. I was more than willing to stop and rest whenever she needed to. As we climbed the trail, the amount of snow increased. The woods went from browns, faded greens and yellows, to white and deep evergreens. Her breathing was becoming more labored, so I made the decision to stop. I sat on a large nearly flat rock just off trail.

I waited for her. She sat next to me, “Thanks.”

I took her hand, “it’s okay to stop when you need to. I really don’t want you exhausted and unable to move later.” I was staring into her eyes, in that moment completely overwhelmed with being here with her. My hands brought her face closer. She was smiling as my lips met hers.

“Remember when you could barely speak to me? You were so adorably awkward.”

I groaned, remembering those first weeks in her class, noticing every detail about her. I still got tongue tied sometimes. Doubted the reality I was living. How I had gone from married to a man to head over heels in love with a woman in less than a year still escaped me. I tried not to spend too much time mulling it over.

“You were. I walked in that day and spotted you right away. ‘Emma, mother of 2’, I wanted you from that moment on. I was certain I would never get to know you though. You were so quiet, never offered up anything in class. Then I read what you wrote for that first workshop and the decision was made for me in that very moment. I was going to get to know you. I was going to try at least; I had no other choice.”

She hadn’t told me all this before, some of it, but not this much detail. “I’m glad you did, despite what a dork I was.”

“Never a dork Emma, never.”

“Liz would disagree.”

“I don’t think she would Emma. She gives you shit, and is unlike anyone I’ve ever known, but she adores you. She doesn’t think you’re a dork.”

It güvenilir casino was another twenty minutes before we managed to compose ourselves enough to get back to hiking. I stopped a few times just to observe the world around us, she stopped once to rest. Eventually, we broke through the trees and the entire county, and then some, was at our feet.

Nell just stood there, slowly turning. The look on her face made every foot uphill worth it. I sat down. I had been up here more times than I could count. Just like the last time I brought her to a staggering view, she sat down next to me after a few minutes and thanked me. I didn’t say anything. It was on that other vista she told me she was falling in love with me, and I her. She slipped her hand in mine as we sat together. I let the peace surround and fill me. I could have sat quietly with her for hours.

She leaned into me, her hand on my neck, kissing me. We did that for a long time, her fingers lingered on that scar under my left ear. I used to hate it. It was thick, and ugly, especially when it was new. It had been a part of me for 23 years now, reminded me every time I looked in the mirror, of the day I almost lost Liz, did lose her boyfriend. I would never allow myself to almost lose her again.

I never talked about my scars with Nell. She often traced them when we were laying together, the ones on my neck, below my jaw, my back, my left thigh, but she never asked me about them. That was just who she was, at least with me.

The sun was moving across the sky, telling me it was time to head back down to the site. The descent was quicker, but a little more perilous. I went first to be sure she didn’t hit any loose rocks or ice.

Back at the site, I gathered stuff to make a fire, moved the chairs closer to it and to each other. Just like sitting observing on the trail, I could get lost staring at the dance inside the fire-pit. The way the flames moved, swirled, bent and swayed was mesmerizing. It was never the same show twice.

I wasn’t sure how long I had been hunched low, completely transfixed with the fire, before I realized she was next to me. “Sorry.”

“Never be sorry Emma. Ever.” We both stood up. “I love watching you watch the world. It’s like seeing it with new eyes.”

“Ready for dinner?” I was.


We walked and got the foil dinners I had already prepped at home, from the cooler. She looked at me when I handed her one. “It’s not gourmet, but it’s good, I promise.”

“You’ve never let me down with food, so I trust you.”

Back at the fire, we placed them in the outer rim, out of the flames but in the hot coals. They would take a while to cook. I never left a fire burning unattended, so we settled in the chairs. I was missing the couch, being able to sit close to her. I found myself hoping the camp chair could hold us both, because I needed to be closer to her.

I joined her, sat in her lap. She didn’t object. My chair became a foot rest. “Emma, you truly are incorrigible.”

Between kisses I replied, “So you keep telling me.” I went back to her lips. She never seemed to mind my persistence. “It’s not my fault you are so irresistible.”

I tucked myself into her shoulder. Her hand went to my scar again. “Car accident.” She didn’t ask, but for some reason, I felt the pull to tell her. That was still the worst day of my life. “We were 17.” I started and didn’t stop until I told her about that wreck. I had alluded to it in one of my writings. It was Liz, me, my boyfriend at the time Dan and her boyfriend Isaac. Isaac was driving, Dan was in the passenger seat. Liz and I in the back of the Impala.

We were on our way back from Lake Taghkanic State Park. We had spent the first day of summer break between junior and senior year laying in the sun, swimming and being carefree. We hadn’t been back on the Taconic Parkway long when a car got on, going the wrong way, speeding towards us. Isaac swerved just a bit before it hit us. Putting me and him directly in its path.

Liz didn’t remember much about that day. I remembered every single detail. The sound of the cars impacting. How we seemed to move in slow motion as the car spun and Isaac was ejected. For a second, I thought he had learned to fly.

Liz didn’t have her seatbelt on either, but she didn’t go flying. Instead, she was slumped next to me. There was so much blood. Mine. Hers. Glass was everywhere, her head was bleeding so bad. The air was heavy with death, smelled of fire. I could hear Dan. Could hear screams. Then sirens. The screaming didn’t stop.

We had to be cut out of the car, it was then I realized I was the one screaming. Liz was barely breathing. Paramedics were with Dan, more with Liz and me. They loaded Liz in one ambulance, me in another. The scar on my left thigh reminded me of the helplessness I felt inside that ambulance, when I didn’t know if Liz was dead or alive.

We both had emergency surgery. My femur got a rod and pins. She was in a coma for five days. I fought every single day to see her. I finally won on day four. No one was going to make me leave her side. No one. Her mother was a mess, was always a mess. Her father had died years ago. I wasn’t letting Liz join him. ‘You are not fucking leaving me Elizabeth’ became my go to pep talk with her as she healed. We healed together.

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