With a crash, the ceramic coffee mug shattered on the stone tiles of the kitchen floor. Dark liquid splattered and pooled along the cracks. Jo stared at her best friend, Sasha, mouth agape.
"Ver-Vermont!?" she stuttered, not wanting to believe her ears.
Sasha clicked her tongue and began mopping up the mess with a towel. "Yes, Jo," she said, her tone patient but firm. "My cousin, the massage therapist, is starting a business there. She wants to make it a joint venture. She's rented a two-story space: the top will be hers, and I'll have an aroma-therapy shop below. It's always been my dream to have my own place. Besides," she shrugged, "California is starting to get on my nerves."
Jo leaned against the granite counter-top, still reeling with shock. She caught sight of her reflection in the glass of some cabinets: short, choppy blonde hair, angular features, devastated blue eyes. I'm so transparent, she groaned inwardly. This was not how someone who just heard that their best friend was moving away should look.
She had known Sasha since their first year in high school. They had even gone to the same college, and now lived in the same Southern Californian coastal town. Sasha had always treated her like a sister; all that time, Jo had been in love with her. Although Jo was open about her preferences, she had never confessed to Sasha for fear of ruining their friendship: better to stand beside her bound and gagged than be left alone with the razor-shards of a shattered dream.
Sasha swept the broken cup into a dustpan and dumped the whole mess in the trash. "You're so melodramatic, Jo," she sighed. "You always react like this. That's why I didn't tell you until now." She shrugged in apology, tucking her long brown hair behind one ear and crossing her arms over her chest. She was wearing a sand-colored ankle-length dress that clung softly to her curves and complemented her smooth, olive-toned skin. Her fine-featured face was pinched now in an expression of anxious unease. "Don't look like that," she said, shifting her weight. "We'll keep in touch."
"You're right," Jo said, smiling a little lopsidedly. "I'm sorry. I was just surprised." For Sasha's sake, she would bear anything. She rallied a firm voice. "I wish you absolutely the best, Sash - and I'll help in any way you need with the move."
Sasha smiled. "You're really the best, Jo," she said. Jo wondered if she imagined the fleeting look of disappointment in her friend's eyes.
One week later, Jo sat at her kitchen table, staring disconsolately into a cup of black coffee. Today, Sasha would be flying to Vermont. Through the open window, Jo heard her grandmother, Clara, watering the flowerbeds in front of the little house where they both lived. After a while, the sprightly octogenarian pranced in, plopping dirty gardening gloves on the table in front of Jo and pulling up a chair.
"What's with the long face, sugarplum?" she asked. "You've been awful unsociable lately. Is it love troubles?" Back in high school, when Jo had tearfully told her gran that she liked girls, the old woman had patted her on the head had said, "When it comes to love, packaging don't matter, hon: it's what's inside that counts."
Jo looked up from the black mirror of her coffee and smiled wanly. "You could say that," she sighed.
"Is it that girl? Sasha?"
Jo nodded. "She's moving to Vermont. Today."
"Does she know how much you like her?"
"Of course not," Jo shook her head. "How could I tell her something like that when we've been friends this long? She trusts me."
Clara leaned forward, squinting over her glasses. "Do you know who the greatest love of my life was?" she asked.
"Nope," the old woman shook her head. "I sure did love him, though, and we had a marvelous time together - but the greatest love of my life was someone else."
Jo's eyes were wide. This was something she had never heard before.
"He was my brother's best friend," she continued. "I had known him almost my whole life, and he was like a second brother to me. But as I got older, I came to realize that I was in love with him. Course I never told him that. I was afraid that if I did, I wouldn't be able to hang around with him anymore, on account of some resultant awkwardness. I never imagined that he would like me back. Well, when I was seventeen, he joined up with the army - this was during the war, you know. At his going away party we all gave him gifts, and I gave him my favorite necklace as a good-luck charm. I promised myself that when he got back and come to return it, I would tell him how I felt about him. Only thing is, he never did come back. When they found his body, they say he had that necklace held tight in his hand. I don't have many regrets at this point in my life, but I do wish I had told him that I loved him while I had the chance; then at least he would've known, when he went through all that horror, that someone out there held him dear. Now, there was nothing more to be done in that situation, but I sure did learn my lesson. A few years later, when I met your grandpa, I went right up to him and I said, 'I love you and I want to marry you,' and he looked right at me, and he said, 'well all right then,' and that was that!" Gran laughed, her eyes a little misty. She sniffed and wiped her nose. "Anyway, my point is there are certain things worthing taking chances for, and love is one of them."
Jo sighed. "But it's not that simple," she said. "Even I told her how I feel, she's still going away."
"The point isn't whether or not she goes away, Joey," Gran said, pursing her lips. "It's whether or not she knows the truth when she does."
At the airport, Jo stood on tiptoe, frantically searching the waiting area for Sasha's familiar form. Finally she spotted her standing near a kiosk of brochures. She seemed to be just finishing a phone call, and snapped her mobile shut with a look that Jo could not read. Jo called out to her as she approached.
"Jo!" Sasha said, surprised. "I didn't think you were coming."
"I- I wasn't planning to, but there's something I… forgot to tell you."
Sasha gave her a quizzical look. "Something you couldn't tell me on the phone?"
Jo felt like she was about to leap from a high place. The heat rose to her face and her heart began to pound. "Sasha, I- I love you," she stammered. "I always have."
She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable blow.
After a pause, Sasha said, "I know."
Jo was dumbstruck. Finding her voice, she choked, "Why- Why did you you never let me know?"
Sasha shrugged. "It didn't seem like you wanted me to. Every time I got close, you ran away."
"I was scared!" Jo protested. "I was scared that I wouldn't be able to stay by your side if I told you!"
Sasha looked a bit hurt. "You know what they say about not knowing until you try? It's pretty true, Jo. Besides," She grumbled. "I'm not that shallow. Anyway, why tell me now, of all times?"
"Because you're leaving anyway! There's nothing left to lose."
"Actually," Sasha smirked, "I just got off the phone with my cousin. The lease fell through. I'm not going anywhere."
Jo stared at her open-mouthed.
"So. Should we date?" Sasha asked. "Or do we know each other well enough already?" A mischievous glint lit her eyes.
"But- but you're straight," Jo protested.
"Who decides that sort of thing, Jo?" Sasha countered gently. "Won't you let it be me?"
Jo felt a rising wave of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. She stepped forward and put her arms around Sasha, leaning her head on her shoulder. "I can't believe this is happening," she said. "I want to believe it, but I'm still afraid."
"What's stronger, Jo, love or fear?"
"I don't know," Jo murmured.
"Let's find out," Sasha said, smiling, and kissed her.