An air of stillness hangs in the apartment as Layna scrubs the next pan from the pile of dishes. One dish, then the next. Fixated on a singular task. Occasional sounds of running water or a dish bumping the sink break through the silence that Layna has created for herself. Even as the apartment lock clicks and the door opens, Layna grabs the next item and continues to wash, paying no attention to her partner, Aella, hesitantly entering the kitchen from behind. Startled out of her trance by a hand on her shoulder, Layna drops the knife she had been mindlessly rinsing.
The knife falls into the water splashing suds over Layna’s cleaning apron. Turning away from the sink, Layna gives Aella a feeble smile, “I didn’t hear you enter. I wasn’t expecting to see you for a couple more hours.”
“I could say the same.” Aella moves to lean against the other counter and folds her arms. “So… Why are you here right now?”
“Oh. Well.” Layna laughs timidly, “You know me.” She begins to creep towards the sink before turning her back on Aella, “I just couldn’t stay away from the dishes.”
“That’s not the real reason. Why are you here right now?” Aella asks, staring curiously into Layna’s back.
Trembling, Layna half heartedly picks up another dish to clean, “I actually. Uh.” Letting out a breath, she attempts to change the subject, “Did you remember to pay the electric bill? The lights have been going on and off all day. I didn’t know if we needed to get an electrician”
“I remembered this month.” Aella says while pressing her fingers into her arms.
The lights flicker casting shadows on the two women before they are left in darkness. Neither speaks and the silence stretches out filling the air with tension.
“So…” Layna begins shyly.
“So.” Aella states.
“I take it you didn’t actually pay the electric bill.”
Layna gestures wildly at the apartment, “Really?! Cause the power is out if you haven’t noticed!”
Aella calmly walks towards Layna grabbing her arms to keep them still. “Layna. You’re not mad at the lights, or me, what’s going on? Why are you here?”
Layna averts her eyes, “I just don’t want you to be disappointed with me.”
“I won’t be.” Aella leans down to look into Layna’s eyes, taking a couple of moments to let them adjust to the darkness. “What’s wrong?”
“I...I got laid off Aella.” Like a flood gate opening, tears roll down Layna’s face. “My entire department got laid off!”
Aella embraces her with a hug, “Oh Layna,” she says soothingly, “it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”
Gently releasing herself from the warm embrace, Layna explains, “I know it will.” she wipes her eyes, “It always is. I’ve come out of worse.”
A deep hum sounds throughout the room and both women stare up as the lights twinkle back on. “See. Nothing to worry about.” Aella says looking down into Layna’s red eyes. “I know it seems rough but you can get through it.”
Layna looks at Aella skeptically, “You? Not we?”
Layna watches as Aella shifts her weight from one foot to the other and looks towards the door before looking back at Layna, “You’re right. I’m sorry. We’ll get through this.”
Layna ambles out of the kitchen before crashing on the couch. With a labored effort on each word, “Today’s the day.” She cocks her head towards Aella, eyes sorrowful, “Today’s the day you’re planning on leaving.”
A hush falls over the women, quickly disrupted by Aella’s shuffling feet. Layna turns to see Aella gaping and wide eyed in the kitchen. Layna gulps waiting for Aella to respond. An eternity passes between them before Aella eventually resigns, “No. Not today.”
Layna stands up sharply and shouts, “Not today?!” She points towards their room. “Then why are your bags packed?! Why did I hear you saying you were leaving when you were on the phone? Why are you home so early?” Her voice lowers dangerously, ”Why do you say ‘here’ instead of ‘home’?” Her energy depleted, Layna slumps back onto the couch.
Clasping her hands anxiously together, Aella hesitantly seats herself on the far side of the couch. “No. Not today. I’m not planning on leaving today.”
Layna looks down and whispers, “Then when?”
Aella repositions herself on the couch, “When you’re back on your feet again.”
“Wh-what?” Layna looks at Aella, confused and shocked.
“I won’t leave until I know you can stand fully again.” Layna states.
With a bitter heat in her voice, “Ha. That’s offly kind for someone who was planning on leaving without saying goodbye.”
“Hey!” Aella pauses before sheepishly adding, “I made a note.”
Layna says, with mocking severity, “Ooo, a note. LIke that’s what a girl wants to be broken up with.”
Aella sighs, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to confront you about it. You’ve been so happy lately.”
“I don’t feel happy.” Layna mutters.
Aella says with sincerity, “Suppose you wouldn’t. That doesn’t make you any less of a person.”
Both women turn their heads as the door creaks open. Aella stands up cursing and jumps over Layna and the couch to get to the door. Startled, Layna shakes herself off and dashes for the kitchen, only stopping when she hears a familiar voice, “Hello? Aella?”
Aella slams the door closed, and leans up against it. Layna inches towards the door, “Who was that?”
Aella clears her throat, “Uh, nobody.”
Through the door the women hear, “Aella? Is everything alright? It’s Haven.”
Layna freezes and questions, “Haven? Why is Haven here Aella?”
Aella anxiously diverts her gaze, “Don’t suppose you would believe me if I were to say she was here to taste your delicious cooking?”
“Let her in,” said Layna dangerously.
Exhaling sharply, Aella opens the door revealing a short black haired woman in a sundress. Haven, startled, sees Aella and begins to speak, “Aella, you ready? I thought…” Her words trail off as she looks past Aella to Layna, “Hi Layna!” she hesitantly continues, “Are you joining us tonight?” Haven glances between both women quickly before continuing, “Aella said there should be some good pieces shown tonight.”
Rubbing her hands nervously on her slacks, Aella ushers Haven inside before closing the door. Layna cautiously observes Haven as she enters the apartment, “What’s tonight?”
Haven hesitates, “Nothing?”
Aella steps in, “There’s an art exhibit tonight.”
Layna asks, “Where? Logos?”
Both women nod their heads. Layna glares at Aella, “Why didn’t you tell me there was an exhibit tonight? I would have dressed up for it.”
Moving closer to Haven, Aella quietly states, “I was planning on just taking Haven tonight.” she looks down at Haven, “Do you want to tell her? Or should I?”
“Tell me what?” Layna asks.
“One of my pieces is in tonight's exhibit.” Haven responds.
Layna stares up in surprise, “That’s great. Wow. That’s actually great! Congratulations Haven!” Layna rushes over to give her friend a hug. “I knew you could do it!” With slow realization, Layna begins to pull back and regard the other two. “So, Aella, those long nights were spent helping Haven with her paintings?”
Aella shifts as Haven whispers in her ear, “You haven’t told her!?” Aella shakes her head then clutches her stomach after Haven elbows her in the gut. “Tell her.”
Bringing herself upright, Aella looks to Layna with a pained expression, “Yes and no.”
“Yes and no?” Layna asks, bewildered.
“Yes, I have been helping Haven with her paintings. No, that is not why they were long nights.” Aella breathes deeply before continuing, “I plan on moving in with Haven. Since all the furniture is yours, I only needed to pack a couple of things. I came here early to do that.” She gestures towards their room, “ You’ve already found some of my bags it seems.”
Layna moves to sit on the arm of the couch. Aella continues, “I would still like to help you. I meant what I said by I’ll stay until you get back on your feet. I understand if you don’t want me to though.”
“Wait, what do you need help with? What’s going on?” Haven asks.
“She lost her job.”
“Oh no… Are you okay? Shoot!” Through gritted teeth, Haven rounds on Aella, “If I knew that I would have told you to keep your mouth shut!” Haven turns to Layna regretfully, “I’m sorry Layna! This was supposed to happen a week ago, not today.” Haven looks down at the floor.
“No big deal. Just add it to the list.” Layna says coldy. “I’m not going to force you to stay. I always meant what I said. I want you to be happy. If that means be with Haven, then be with Haven.”
Aella stands tall, “I do want to be with her, and I am sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I’m glad you’re handling this so well.”
Layna nods stalking towards the kitchen. “Haven” she asks before stopping in front of the sink. “Can I have a couple of moments with Aella before you both head out for the exhibit?”
Nodding, Haven says, “Yeah, of course.” She looks sympathetically towards Aella before leaving the apartment.
The lights flicker once again before going out. Aella chuckles, “so… I might have actually lied about the electric bill….” Layna grunts while reaching down to grip the half forgotten knife laying with the rest of the dishes.
“I might have lied too…”