The Gable House – Two Months Later

Heaven. She was cool after a long day of sweat clinging to her scalp, running down her spine, coating her entire body in enough animal hair to think she’d become one of her patients. Freya listens to the now-familiar end-of-day noises of the old house and the small world beyond. It’s pure, unadulterated pleasure. Gravel crunching as the last client pulls out. A cow mooing in a distant field. A tractor crossing the street of Whisper Falls. It’s so hot Freya swears she can feel the heat leeching the vitality from her bones. 

She’s upstairs, flat on her back, wondering how they are ever going to afford air conditioning. Trent knew August was the cruelest month in Eastern Washington, but Freya did not know. The only cool spot in the house is the dank old root cellar with the spiders. Downstairs in the kitchen, Violet is playing an old radio she salvaged from the junkyard. Some punk station in Idaho she found one night when she had Sebastian, her maybe-boyfriend, over for dinner and pretended that it wasn’t a date. 

Freya chuckles as she wipes the sweat off her forehead. The bedroom windows are open and a slight breeze shifting through the cottonwood trees mingles with the river, the earthy scents of harvested fields resting before being planted. It surprised Freya how easily she’s settled into the rural rhythms, going to bed early, and rising with the sun. Following the farmers’ lead. Much of this has to do with Trent. Once she’d ceded control, for the first time, everything fell into place. Competition, she’d realized had become her life. A simple equation to bury the grief of losing her parents. It was impossible, she knows now, to grieve, when her mind was consuming information, cramming herself with facts and ambition so she could drop, leaden, into sleep. 

Aunt Lilly knew what she was doing, guiding her toward veterinary school. Freya needed a carrot. Needed to run like hell from the ever-expanding grief that threatened to swallow her that morning at the breakfast table. Lilly punctured her world with the sharp knife of a double loss. Then she tried anything, Freya realized. Anything at all to drag Freya back to life.

Ultimately, it was Trent. He allowed her to slow down. To stop running from the pain and allow it to live alongside joy. To cuddle Jorge, befriend Violet, and share her past without letting it destroy her. Trent softened her. Which was terrifying for someone who’d cut her way through the world, enjoying her solitude in university, keeping herself separate except for a roommate who didn’t ask too many questions. 

A month ago, Trent moved into her corner room at the end of the hall. Freya bent over backwards making him feel welcome. Offering him the bigger dresser until they had time to drag the heavily carved armoire he’d used for his clothes into what they now called the weight room. 

Trent had pursed his lips, amused. “Come on Freya. I can dress down the hall. Don’t lose all your edge. I love you the way you are.”

It was the first time either of them had said the word love. Freya had burst into tears, which made Trent laugh, at first, until she threw a pillow at him.

He’d hugged her, smashing her against his scrubs, which smelled of bleach and dog hair. “Well, this is new.”

Letting go was new. Or, Freya muses, letting go and not thinking she was falling down a mine shaft, was new. Knowing that Trent was her soft landing. Always would be. 

Downstairs the door from the surgery slams, shaking the dry timbers of the old house. Trent’s finally leaving work. This heat has made them switch roles. He’s the workaholic willing to cover her hours while she sneaks out at five, strips out of her scrubs, and showers, and lies naked on the bed letting the water evaporate off her skin. For a blessed moment, she’s cool. Trent’s not fooling anyone with his kind gesture. Okay, yes, it’s kind, Freya thinks but also, a girlfriend who’s cool, showered, and not covered in animal hair is far more likely to have sex than the version that drags herself out of the clinic overworked, overtired, and hardly in the mood for sweet, sweet love.

Freya smiles to herself, waiting for Trent to clomp up the stairs. He’ll open the door, grin, and look at her for a good long while without saying a word. She’ll smile back and tell him to take a shower. He’ll give her a two-fingered salute. “Yes, ma’am.” 

Afterward, they’ll get dressed in clean clothes, join Violet for dinner, and listen to her latest scheme for raising money for an animal shelter in Whisper Falls, because the shelter in Madison is just too far away. 

She wants to have a fundraiser and make Hank and Bonnie work together. “Those two are seriously into each other. They are. I know it.” 

Freya will eat whatever Violet is putting on the table and give Violet grief about her inability to admit that she and Sebastian are a couple and all kinds of touching is happening. Violet will tell her to shut up bite the inside of her mouth and try not to glow. Because she’s smitten and Sebastian is a lovesick puppy who’s fallen hard for his goth maybe-girlfriend. 

Groaning with regret, Freya gets up from the bed. The old springs protest. She can’t help but smooth down the lovely old quilt even though they’ll thoroughly mess it up later. Padding across the room barefoot, avoiding the nail she needs to pound down, she opens the dresser, staring at her stacks of t-shirts and bras before changing her mind and shutting the door.

Freya listens to the radio, the water from the shower, the crunch of gravel as Sebastian, and yes, a glance out the window confirms it is Sebastian, too focused on the bottle of wine he’s taking out of the front seat of his car to look up and see her, helps her make up her mind. Opening the door, she sneaks down the hallway, and quietly opens the door which of course creaks but Trent can’t hear it over the sound of the water.

Freya pushes the shower curtain aside. Trent hears and turns, his broad back tan and slick with water. Those eyes swallow her as they turn up at the corner. “Hey there pretty lady, come here often?”

Moving towards him, he opens his arms. “Shut up,” she murmurs right before their mouths join. His arms encircle her, holding her up, making sure she won’t slip on the old porcelain. 

“Mm,” Trent groans. “Maybe we don’t need air conditioning if this is the way it’s gonna be.”

Freya shakes her head, rubbing her noses. “You wish. We’re taking out a loan.”

Trent kisses her neck, licking the clean fresh water as it runs down her jaw. “We’ll see.”

Freya tilts her head, allowing her throat to be peppered with wet, increasingly firm kisses. “We’ll see.”

Trent stops kissing her, pulling back to meet her eyes. “You think you’re going to win this one, don’t you?”

Freya rests her forehead on his shoulder, enjoying the way the rounded muscles push into her breasts. “Trent. Shut up.”

Ellyn Oaksmith