1. Little Green
It was the last Saturday morning in June. Lazer was sleeping in. Jules was gardening in the backyard. Nic was taking out the compost, because it was her turn to do it last night and it'd look really shitty if she kept putting it off while Jules was working out there.
Nic tried not to focus on the grubby pits and peels, or the warm pungent blast that greeted her when she opened the composting barrel. She turned her thoughts to the dark freckles on Jules' face and shoulders, spreading in the summer like wildflowers in the grass. A single red lock had slipped from Jules' ponytail and clung damply to the concave curve between her collarbones and breasts.
"What?" Jules grinned. She'd caught Nic looking.
"Nothing," Nic smiled. She turned the compost barrel. "You're really pretty."
"Aw, stop," Jules blushed.
It had been four years since the infamous Summer of Paul. And while remembering still gave Nic a visceral punch of "fuck no"- never in a million years would she be grateful- she had to admit they'd grown stronger from getting past it.
After Joni left for Stanford, Lazer convinced his moms to go to couple's therapy. The therapist never gave them weird vibes for being gay, which was great, but she was really too young. Barely older than Joni, young. Born after the Challenger explosion, young. She read to them from the textbooks: about communicating more, reimagining the work roles in the family, and even (cough, cough) reconnecting physically…
Nic and Jules bonded more from making fun of therapy on the drive home than they did from therapy itself. Not that they ever told Lazer that.
The truth is there was no quick fix. Not the therapy, not the evenings of candlelit bubblebaths, not even the wine-tasting weekend in Napa for their twenty-fifth anniversary. The healing came from daily, deliberate efforts. Self-conscious little statements like "I appreciate when you do that," or "you were right, I'm sorry," or "I'll try harder."
The healing came from years of hard work, turning the mess around again and again until it became something clean and productive and real. Something like Jules smiling, flattered, and humming "Little Green" as she pulled weeds. Something like Nic smiling too, even as the mud from the outside of the compost barrel stained her hands and jean knees.
Nic and Jules looked up. Joni waved from the back porch. Jules squealed and ran to her. Nic sat still a moment, surprised.
"You… got a haircut! It's- wow!"
"It's different, huh? Shorter than yours," Joni teased. "I wanted something low-maintenance for my gap year."
Jules pulled Joni into a long hug, rocking side to side. Nic pulled herself to her feet, tried to wipe off her hands, gave up, and came over. "Sweetie, you're going to Argentina, not Mars."
"Tierra del Fuego, hon," Jules noted. "With the crunchy science geeks. Something tells me they don't shower as often as the kids teaching English in Buenos Aires."
"True," Nic smiled.
She watched Jules run her hands along the pale peach fuzz where Joni's hair had once been. "Did you donate the stuff they cut off?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't I?"
"That's our girl."
"I like it," Nic declared. "It's very cute."
"You've got the face shape to pull it off femme," Jules added. "Not that it matters, I mean, as long as you like it…"
"How'd you get here so early?" Jules asked. "I thought you were coming in tonight…"
"I drove down yesterday and stayed over at Sasha's. I wanted to surprise you," Joni explained. "I thought I'd help you get everything for the Fourth of July."
"Aww, how sweet," Jules cooed. "Oh, but your mom's shopping for the picnic. Not me."
Joni arched an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Yeah, well, I've got like a ton of clients that want their spaces ready for the holiday, and I've got a new consult in…" Jules glanced at her wristwatch. "Shit!"
She pecked Joni on the cheek, Nic on the lips, and darted inside, looking back over her shoulder to admire her daughter's new 'do. Joni smiled and waved back. She rolled her eyes knowingly at Nic. Nic gave her a muted, thoughtful smile in return.
She remembered the outdoorsy preteen who had to be lectured to tend the wheat-colored bird's nest that was her hair, but refused to get it cut even remotely short because it would be "boyish." "Like Nic's," is what she meant, but was too tactful to say. Nic got it: the girl needed to individuate herself from her biological mother, 'be her own person' and all that crap. And waist-length hair was cute on Joni once she got down the brushing habit.
But now? Joni's new look was G.I. Jane, edgier than anything either of her mothers had ever done. Her hair might resemble Nic's customary pixie in a month or two. By then she'd be ten thousand miles away. And homesick maybe?
"You look beautiful," said Nic. "I'd hug you, except, well-" she held out her arms. Black, slippery mud covered her hands and splattered up to her elbows. "This is all from the compost, you believe that?"
"What'd you do, drop your car keys in?" Joni teased.
"No! This is from the outside! I swear, some of those freaking worms escaped and are eating through the yard. The ground all around the barrel is just… fecund."
"Fecund? Hm," Joni mused. "There's a word you never hear. It fits, though."
"I know, right?"
And mother and daughter walked inside together, side by side.