I locked the car and took the elevator up to my office on level four. I was early; according to the clock it was 6:30am and there was no one in sight. I unlocked the doors, turned on the lights and made a cup of coffee from the machine we'd received as a Christmas gift.
I had an hour before the other staff members were due to arrive. Lisa had arrived pretty early last time and I wondered if this would be a repeat performance. I hoped so; I preferred talking with few people around.
Sure enough, at 6:40 I heard a knock on the glass doors out the front. I walked over to open them and there was Lisa, smiling shyly. "Sorry that I got here so early. I thought the bus would take longer getting into the city."
"It's not a problem." I smiled and ushered her in, hoping to make her feel at ease. "Would you like a coffee or tea? Something to wake you up?"
"I'd love a tea. Could I make it?" She looked hopeful.
We made small talk as she waited for the kettle to boil. I found myself giving her a once over; it's a habit that I've picked up from interviewing and forming quick impressions of people. Her sweatshirt and jeans were clean, her hair was pulled back into a braid, and her skin was immaculate and that of someone who takes the time to know beauty products.
I waited as she mixed sugar and milk into the amber water and carried the mug over to my desk.
She sat down and looked up at me expectantly.
"Lisa," I said, "this isn't an interview, sweetie. Tell me what's on your mind."
"I don't know." She picked up the mug and took a sip, and I winced as I watched her burn her lip. "Damn, too hot."
I tried to help her out. "Something must have changed since I spoke to you last. You seemed pretty enthusiastic about the article."
She bit her lower lip and suddenly seemed so young. "I'm sorry to waste your time. I'm not so good at explaining things like this."
If I'd gotten the impression that pushing would have helped, I would have pushed. But I was struck with the realization that I needed to retreat.
"It doesn't matter, Lisa." I took a sip of coffee and stretched. "So, how have things been going at school?"
She seemed to relax a little. "Great. One of my friends and I are taking surfing lessons. It's so cool. And best of all? It counts toward our gym requirement." She feigned awe. "No more gym this year!"
I laughed. "You're a lucky girl. Gym nearly ruined my grades. What makes them consider gym to be an educational class, anyway?"
"I know. The only thing it encourages is perspiration."
At that moment one of my co-workers arrived. "Good morning." He seemed taken aback to see me. "I assume you're putting in the hours while you still can, before your infant's cries force you to take regular leave?"
I laughed and rolled my eyes.
"Infant?" Lisa's eyes dropped to my stomach and then returned to my face, confused.
"Yeah, my partner is pregnant." The funny thing about that line coming from a woman's lips is that it is coming out without intending to do so. There's just no way to make it gender neutral.
"Congratulations!" She seemed genuinely pleased by the news, which is always nice. It's a nuisance taking the time to explain it, only to have the person end up looking revolted.
She looked like she was going to say something but then changed her mind and reached for her tea.
Willow is rousing from a deep sleep. "I love you," she murmurs, stretching her legs luxuriously in the queen-sized bed.
The only response is the sound of wind battling against the window panes.
She opens her eyes slowly, the stitches of sleep narrowing her lids, and searches the room for her wife.
"Where are you, lover of mine?" She pats the bedside table until her hand lands on her cell phone. She lifts it with effort, and notices a note stuck to the keys.
I had a meeting at 7am that I forgot to tell you about. I hope you slept well. I'll call you when I'm done.
I love you!
Your absentminded blonde
Willow shrugs and crumples the note.
"So, what are we doing today?" she asks her stomach. She grins, realizing how long it's been since she last talked to herself aloud, although she isn't strictly talking to herself but to a fetus. "I think we're going to clean the kitchen and thenů" she glances at the computer, "I think we're going to download a chat program." She pats her stomach, pleased with the itinerary.
She dawdles into the kitchen and is surprised to find a tray on the counter. There is a plate of rapidly cooling eggs, a cream cheese bagel and orange juice in a glass patterned with condensation.
"You are too cute, Tara Maclay," she says, carrying the food to be eaten in bed.
"Let me know when you have to get going," I said, checking the time.
The brunette stood immediately. "Okay."
"I didn't mean now," I clarified, encouraging her to sit down.
I noticed that Lisa was wrapping the straps of her purse around her fingers, pulling them tight. When she released, the skin underneath was red and wrinkled. "Lisa, what is it?" I reached out a hand to touch her and she flinched.
Much to Lisa's chagrin she felt tears sting at her eyelids. "Is there somewhere we can talk that isn't here?"
I nodded, already getting out of my chair. I put my arm around the troubled teen and led her out of the office, into the elevator and inside the car. When I turned on the engine a loud, angry song started to play. It seemed to shake Lisa out of her reverie and at one point she even attempted making conversation.
Pulling out of the parking lot, I drove quickly until reaching the ocean.
We walked along the beach, the wind blowing our hair about until we could barely see. We walked for over an hour in utter silence, enjoying only the sound of the sand crunching beneath our feet.
When we reached the rocks at the end of the beach, Lisa sat down and held her knees to her body. She turned to face me. "Whenever I come to this beach, I look over at those rocks in the distance and wonder who actually walks all the way down to reach them." She smiled faintly. "Now I know."
I leaned against a rock. "I always imagined that it would be a good place to talk. You know, being surrounded only by water, salt and sand. You can't help having a clear mind out here."
"But sometimes having a clear mind makes thinking even harder. You can hear all your thoughts at once and it's hard to make sense of them." Lisa began to dig through the sand, pushing against the grains with her nails. She seemed to be looking for something but I wasn't sure what it was.
My eyes were focused on the ocean. "If that happens, you pick the thought that is loudest in your head and deal with it first." I wiped sand off my legs and ended up with granules stuck to my moist hands. "I find that if I voice the loudest, it's usually a whole lot quieter in there afterwards."
Lisa nodded absently, and I wondered if she'd even heard me. "Can you do me a favour?"
"What is it?"
"I think you know which thought is the loudest in my head." Her breathing was fast and her words spilled out in a rush.
I looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that when you touched me and I jumped, I felt that you figured it out."
I realized what she was trying to do. "Lisa, I know you don't want to say it, but neither do I, really."
The brunette nodded. "I know. I'm sorry." She closed her eyes and breathed in the rich, salty air. "He hurts me."
My chest constricted. It had been hard enough going through it myself, but somehow hearing Lisa admit to the same thing made it ache harder.
"My father. It's not sexual. He just," Lisa paused, "takes out his anger on me."
"Have you spoken to anyone about it?"
Lisa shook her head. "Well, my mom knows because she hears it. But I've never talked to someone about it."
The sole benefit of my past was that I knew what she needed. I wrapped my arms around her like she was a precious object. "Lisa," I murmured, "you're not alone. I promise to help you through this."
A wave crashed right by us, soaking our feet in foam. I felt the heaviness of a promise hit me and hoped that this time I could get it right.