pulled her car into the long, curving driveway of her house. She had been away for a day and a half, visiting a friend who had had an accident, and she was anxious to get inside to her family. The three hour drive had left Carson a little stiff, but before getting out to stretch her legs, she took just a moment to look up at the two year old, two story structure. She sighed heavily. Carson always thought it was too ostentatious with its double door entry and plantation style stone columns. Inside was just as bad with highly polished marble floors, expensive artwork and antique furniture. It was like living in a museum...or lately a mausoleum. The perfectly manicured lawn and shrubs reminded her more a botanical garden than a residence. But it's what her partner had wanted. In fact, Carson had barely had any input in the choice at all. Her partner had become dissatisfied with the condo they had been renting since they had moved in together. She
had decided when to move, where to move to and what type of house she was going to build. One day Carson was informed of the decision and presented with completed blueprints. After moving in, a professional decorating team was hired, and again Carson was not consulted on any decisions. She was allowed one small room at the back of the house, to use as an office, where she displayed some personal treasures. But that room was always conveniently skipped during tours to her partner's family and friends.
From anyone else's viewpoint, Carson Galloway had everything. But she didn't really want nor need most of the things she had. There were only two things in the world that she really wanted.
She had one of them.
Grabbing her overnight bag, Carson trudged up the expanse of stone stairs and let herself into the house. She was suddenly assailed by the cries of her five month old son. Actually, he was crying his head off. Carson ran up the stairs to the nursery and scooped the wailing baby into her arms. One sniff told her what his problem was. She proceeded to change his messy clothes, saving the soiled sheets for later. "Where is your mama?" she asked, hoping her voice would help sooth his ills. Carson knew her partner was home because her Mercedes was in the drive. There was also a Porsche in the garage. The expensive autos were just two of the many prestige symbols that Carson's spouse insisted on.
Even after he was all clean and dry, the baby continued to fuss. "Let's track down your mama and see what's going on," Carson told him. With a quick check of all the rooms upstairs, it appeared that the baby had been all alone in the house. A girl down the street had been babysitting in the mornings as Carson worked her part time job. Surely your mama would have called Julie if she had to leave,
On the first floor, the big office and music room was empty. The unlit Christmas tree was the only living thing in the great room. Just days earlier, Carson and her son had been sitting alone on the floor, opening his very first presents. His other parent had been out of town...again. Carson frowned sadly at the memory. Unfortunately, there were too many of those gloomy memories.
Her final stop was the kitchen, and it was also empty. But that wasn't really a surprise, since her partner rarely stepped into that room, except to get her ever present vitamin water from the refrigerator. The woman didn't drink coffee or indulge in chocolate or any other, what she perceived as unhealthy foods. She had hired a chef, schooled in the art of vegan cuisine, to deliver her meals everyday, while carnivore Carson hade to prepare her own. Carol Chasen was proud...very proud of her body. When she wasn't working, she was working out. Her family time was a distant third in her life.
Carson happened to look out the patio door and spotted a long leg lounging across a chaise by the pool area. The California sun, even in winter, was shining down. But the tan on the visible gam was from an expensive salon. After all, it had to be perfect. Carol was an imposing human being, standing well over six feet, especially when wearing her three inch heeled Manolo Blahniks. Next to her towering partner, Carson appeared petite, even though she stood a respectable five foot, five and a half inches from the ground. She was always referred to as cute, even by her partner, with her twinkling eyes the shade of the summer grass, a pixie like smile and a small dimple softly sculpting her left cheek. Although Carson was very secure in her own skin, with all of its positive points and imperfections, she wished people would come up with a new adjective.
The blonde opened the door and stepped out onto the deck to see her partner. Carol Chasen was undoubtedly, extremely attractive. Her expertly coiffed, jet black hair and deep blue eyes garnered looks from both sexes wherever she went. The business executive was turned away, chatting on the phone in her ear, and didn't see her partner.
"Carol?" Carson called. She merely got a short wave in response. Carson would not be put off by the brief gesture and continued, requiring answers. "Why was our son crying, while you are sitting out here relaxing?" Again she got a hand stalling her words. The baby's cries had mostly quieted, but he still made some upsetting sounds. Carson spoke into his ear and gently bounced him in her arms. She needed to make everything right in his world.
The brunette finally ended her call more than a minute later. "Glad to have you back love," the elegant voice said as she rose from the lounger. "I had an important call and I couldn't hear over his crying." Carol kissed her partner's cheek with a fleeting peck as they all went back inside.
The lame excuse frustrated Carson and she voiced her arguments. "And a phone call was more important than your son and the mess he was laying in."
Carol dropped her empty water bottle into the recycle bin and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter. "It was business," she said. "And wait until you hear the news I have. But later. I really am glad you're back, but I need to run out for a while."
"When did he eat last?" Carson asked, not caring about anything, but her son for the moment.
"Not sure," Carol answered, distractedly as she rifled through a stack of papers. "I've been here two hours. Julie had to leave early."
Instead of arguing further, Carson went to the refrigerator to get her son a bottle. But a box of something on the counter caught her attention. She picked up one of the cans from inside the box. "What is this?"
Carol was now rummaging through her briefcase and barely looked up to answer. "Baby formula."
"But you are breastfeeding."
"Not anymore," Carol said with obvious relief in her voice. "It's too much trouble to pump so many times a day. I just don't have the time. And I really won't have the time starting next week. That's what I want to tell you later."
By now, Carson was more than a bit disgusted. She had hoped, absurdly so, that she would return home to a miraculously transformed partner. One who wanted to stay home more then stay away. One who was attentive to her family... or just plain loved them. "You never have the time for your child," Carson said, annoyance creeping into her voice. "You don't talk to him, or hold him and heaven forbid you'd have to change him."
"But you do such a wonderful job," Carol said and then smiled. She thought her elegant charm would win over any argument. And it worked about ninety percent of the time.
But that charisma had stopped working on Carson Galloway some time ago. "And just when did you decide to stop nursing?" she asked.
"Yesterday. So you see he's already had some of it and seems just fine."
"No," Carson corrected, "you decided a long time ago. You just waited until I was gone. And what do you mean, seems just fine? Did you even call his pediatrician and ask which formula would be best for him? You know he has asthma."
"One is just as good as another," Carol said as she headed for the front door. "Have to run love, be back late."
"You're always late," Carson mumbled as she grabbed her phone and hit the speed dial. After her call to the baby's doctor and getting his okay, she gently heated a bottle and settled into the rocker in the corner of her bedroom. He sucked away heartily as Carson watched, softly humming to him, until his eyes began to droop. Once he was asleep, she continued to hold him, thinking about her life.
Nothing was ever perfect, but everything in her life, except the child in her arms, was about as far from perfect as it could get.
* * *
Carol tiredly shuffled into the bedroom at about two in the morning, immediately kicking off her pricey shoes. A hearty sigh of relief left her painted lips. She took a long drink of the water she had grabbed from the kitchen and loosened the clip holding up her long hair at the back of her head. Setting the bottle aside, she ran her fingers through the dark mass. Then she shed the dark jacket, tossing it over a chair. The only light in the room came from the bedside lamp, but it was more than enough to navigate her way around the large area. Carol had yet to say a word to her partner, who was lounging in the bed, just observing. Even though she was tired, Carson had stayed awake. They needed to talk.
Only after returning from the bathroom, did Carol catch Carson's stare. "Oh, I thought you were asleep. But since you're up, let me tell you my wonderful news. I got a fantastic promotion yesterday, double my current salary. Of course it will mean longer hours and a lot more traveling. But I'll have a lot more responsibility." Carson silently translated that to mean power. "Oh, and I need you to quit your job."
Carson twitched. "Quit my job? I only work part time."
"I know; that's why it's no big deal."
"It is to me; I like what I'm doing." There was no answer from Carol as she changed for bed. "So you've got it all planned out huh?" Carson asked with a huff.
"So tell me why, should I quit?"
"To take care of the baby full time. I'll be leaving in the mornings earlier than usual and Julie said she is going to have to quit. I thought about hiring a professional, but I don't like the idea of a stranger being alone in our house so much. We have a lot of valuable things around here."
Carson should have been way beyond anger at this point, after months of dealing with the kind of crap, Carol was now doling out. But overwhelming pain was the only emotion currently racing across her heart and her mind. "I think I've been quite the fool," she said quietly. "I thought you were perfect when we first met. But everything about you is phony. Most of all your love for me and our son."
Carol was brushing her hair and barely heard her lover. "What are you talking about?"
"Everything you have is just for show," Carson repeated loudly. "This fancy house and your expensive car. Everything about you is phony. Your tan, your breasts and your ass. Your dyed hair and colored contacts."
Carol stared at her partner's reflection in the mirror before her. "You were crazy about my black hair and blue eyes when we met at that club four years ago. You said the combo was exotic."
"Yes, I was attracted to that. But I didn't fall in love with you because of it. I like your real hair and your natural eyes."
"Nobody likes mousy brown hair and brown eyes; it's boring." Carol swiveled sharply on the small stool beneath her and made her point with her out stretched hair brush. "And I will never be boring again."
"But I don't even know the person you are. I just don't know you at all. I don't even think you really ever loved me. You just wanted a spouse to flaunt around."
"Oh and you don't love it when my business acquaintances clamor over your charm," Carol pointed out.
"Compliments are nice," Carson conceded, "but what does it really mean in the end. You just don't get it. You don't understand what's really important."
"I guess I don't. I don't understand what your problem is. Name one time I treated you badly or one time I hit you."
Carson shook her head slightly in agreement. "No, you never hit me. No, you never treated me badly, in the true sense of the word. What you've done is ignore me. Or worse, treat me like a trophy when it suits your purpose."
Carol argued. "I've given you everything a woman could want. You wanted a baby and when you couldn't have one, I made a huge
sacrifice and got pregnant. I almost ruined my figure, but I'm gonna get that taken care of too. You have your baby, so stop bitching."
The mention of her son was enough to draw that hidden anger out into the open, and Carson let it fly. "You're right, he is my
baby! You never really wanted him. He's just a burden to you, or another prize to show off. Up until a few months ago you had me convinced that a family was what you wanted too. But it was just more lies. After you gave birth, you immersed yourself in your work and pulled away from us, after you promised it would only make us closer."
The tall woman took on an unbelieving expression. "I'm here," she answered lamely.
"Yes, we're in the same room, but we're miles apart. Do you realize that we have only made love once since Logan was born. You wouldn't let me touch you while you were pregnant because you didn't feel sexy."
A crooked, erotic smile slowly, slid across Carol's face. She had learned well the arts of seduction, and had no shame in using her talents to get what she wanted. "Is that what this is about?" she asked, her voice smoky and deep. The long legs slowly stalked across the room. The top she wore went sailing to the carpet as she reached the corner of the huge bed. "Is this what you want? I'll give you what you've been missing."
Carson lost herself in the vision of feminine beauty that approached and climbed up her body, settling over her like a dominant predator. And she sank into the kiss that started as a soft whisper, but soon became a deep, exotic power play. Carol was always strong and passionate, and Carson liked that. But Carol had turned demanding, controlling without physical harm, but it still wasn't appealing. "Do you really want this to change?" Carol asked as she slipped the tiny strap from a shoulder and her hand latched onto a breast. The question went unanswered as Carson's body hummed at the touch. It remembered the long ago times and it craved more. She quickly shed her lacy sleep top and pulled the dark head back to her breast. The heat swept across her skin like a fire, only this flame would burn and destroy. But Carson was already too lost in a sexual haze to stop. Carol soon slithered down, covering the toned body with kisses, only stopping when she reached the satin that covered the blonde patch between Carson's legs. Removing that barrier swiftly, Carol immediately established an erotic tempo. She remembered her way around the region that was for sure. Between her oral talents and Carson's needy body, the blonde was writhing and moaning in just minutes, and her orgasm exploded in minutes more. But with the release of tension, Carson was transported back to the moment and the situation. "Please stop!" she said, pushing her lover away, her breaths heavy with a combination of exertion and anger. But not true passion. "I don't want sex to be a distraction."
Carol begrudgingly left their bed and tugged a t-shirt over her head. "I don't know what you do want."
"That is the saddest part," Carson admitted. The irritation was starting to get the better of this normally calm woman. "Let me put it in business terms that you will understand. I want you to be 50% of the partnership of Chasen and Galloway. All I want is you and our son, our family. But I'm afraid you don't even know the meaning of the word."
Carol shrugged. "I'll try to do better. I love you. I promise. Can I go brush my teeth now and get some sleep?"
Carson's eyes slipped shut and she nodded sadly. Carol used the word promise about as often as most people used hello, only with less meaning. When she heard the water start up, Carson put her robe on, grabbed the baby monitor and walked down to the guest room, where she spent the night. She could no longer sleep next to a stranger.
Though she didn't get much sleep that night. Carson stared at the dark ceiling for hours, deliberating over the current state of her life. It had all been a lie. The promises Carol had made about forever had disappeared as so much steam from a boiling pot. Her professions of an undying love had been as false as the color of her hair. The situation had been transforming for some time, but Carson had been holding on to hope that Carol would hold true to her pledge. But that last ounce of hope had just dissolved like sugar in the rain.
Carson began crying. Her heart was broken.
When she had first fallen in love, she had so many expectations for the future, so much anticipation of endless happiness for the two of them. Carol had made her so many promises. Had they really been lies, or just forgotten words. But in the end that didn't matter. It had been wonderful for almost a year. They had laughed and spent quiet times together. And they had loved passionately. Then Carol had gone to a weekend seminar and when she came home it all started to change. And it wasn't gradual. Carson never knew what or who had inspired the conversion, but that was the day that started the journey away from the Carol Chasen who had promised to love and cherish her partner. Their vows had been private, not legal or in a church, but they were still sacred to Carson. And Carol had said the same. But that was then. Her actions clearly spoke louder than those words.
Can I ever trust anyone again?
Carson wondered miserably.
Only when she answered her son's cries at five in the morning, did Carson make the most important decision of her life. She was still in love with the Carol Chasen that she had first met. The modest, unselfish...the real Carol Chasen. The honest Carol Chasen. And Carson believed that that person was still hidden somewhere inside. But Carol had managed to bury that person deep under the make-up, the physique, the fancy clothes and the attitude. But Carson didn't have the energy to search for her anymore. And she could no longer live with the lies and the indifference.
* * *
Carson barely had the opportunity to say a handful of words to her spouse over the next two days. But she made good use of the time as she moved forward with her plans.
But then Carol was finally home, for a few hours anyway. But even so, she was behind closed doors in her office, working on whatever it was she did. Carson wasn't even sure of that anymore. But she couldn't let that or anything stop her. She had a mission.
Carson walked into the big, pretentious room to find her lover deep in concentration over her computer. She looked around at the executive's trophies sitting prominently on the shelves and the framed awards, certificates and news articles hanging on the wall. Every one of them featured Carol Chasen's favorite subject...Carol Chasen. It certainly wasn't as if a clue had suddenly jumped up and bit Carson in the ass. But it did serve to reinforce her decision. "We need to talk Carol."
The dyed head didn't move. But the lips spoke the all too familiar words. "Now's not a good time love. I'm really busy."
Carson stepped closer, only stopping when the antique, mahogany desk got in the way. "Now is the only time," she said. "Please stop what you are doing and look at me." This time her voice was demanding. "And don't call me love. That's just another lie."
Carol did spare her a quick glance. "What are you talking about?"
"It's over with us Carol. We don't have a relationship anymore. It's a sham. A masquerade. I'm leaving tomorrow."
The busy fingers began tapping on the keyboard once again. "Just be sure you get the babysitter if you're not taking him with you."
Carson sighed. The frustration was so tiring. "Him has a name."
The frustration suddenly exploded into rage. "Your son's name is Logan. Damn you! Would you just pay attention to me for five minutes, then you can spend the rest of your life on business."
Carol closed her laptop, but not without a small huff. "Very well."
Carson leaned on the desk for support. The move brought her just a foot away from Carol's emotionless face. Carson's voice was calm once again, but laden with pain as she explained. "I'm leaving for good. Whatever relationship we had has disappeared. I'm not even sure we ever really were anything more than...sex partners. I thought you loved me. But that was the biggest lie of all. Maybe you were even lying to yourself; I don't know. I'm moving back to Illinois." Carson briefly studied Carol's composed demeanor. There hadn't been a twitch of a muscle or change in expression. Carson wasn't sure if that was good or bad. She backed away. "You don't seem too shocked or upset," she commented.
Carol stood and crossed her arms in front of her. "After our little chat the other night, which I did hear, and your move to the guest room, I guess it's not surprising." She stared down the woman who had been in her life for four, complicated years. "Will anything I say change your mind?"
The blonde head tipped down. Carson felt as if a ton of emotions was hanging over her. There was only one way to start shedding the burden. "No," she admitted. "Because I wouldn't believe it."
"Then why waste my breath," Carol said. "How do want to handle the arrangements?"
She doesn't even want to fight for me.
Carson had the answers prepared, but just for a moment the words lodged in her tightened throat. "Jus...just give me back my half of the down payment on this house. I don't want anything else, no support, just my personal belongings. I've already packed everything and made arrangement for them to be shipped." Carson pulled out a folded stack of papers and put it on the desk in front of her former partner. This, it seemed was much easier.
"What's this?" Carol asked.
"Sign it and you relinquish all of your parental rights to Logan. You'll be dissolved of all responsibility. He'll be my son only. I want him. I love him."
"You don't want financial support for him?" Carol asked, suspiciously.
Carson's head now shook desolately. The sadness was for her son and what he was losing. "He doesn't need anything from you," she answered.
Carol scratched out her signature and handed back the paper. Carson took it without looking into the false blue eyes. She slowly walked to the door, stopping when she heard the voice.
Carson turned the handle and opened the door, but never glanced back. "I was right. I don't believe you."
* * *
Carson Galloway took her seat on the airplane and made sure the baby seat buckle was tightened securely, but comfortably around her son. She looked out the window one last time, saying so long to sunny California. It was December 31st, but she saw no reason to wait one hour longer in a place that was no longer home. Carson wanted to start her new life at the start of the new year.