DISCLAIMER: These characters and situations do not belong to me in any way, shape, or form. I have borrowed them as part of my sanity maintenance.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: atfm wrote a lovely Sassy story over here, and I suggested there was a follow-up to be written she suggested that I might write it. So, um, here it is. I guess this is a Sassy story missing one of the main characters; you'll see what I mean, I hope.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
After sealing the box tightly with duct tape, I set it atop a stack of other boxes in the back of the closet. Taking a marker to label it, I let my hand hover over the brown cardboard for a moment, wondering how on earth one labelled a box full of love and loss, of things that would probably never be seen by their owner again. Then, in bold black letters, I simply wrote, "Sara's Box".
It'd been three weeks since I'd purposely stored 'Sara's Box' in the back of my closet, and yet I still, to my annoyance, pulled it out at least once a night to just pore over those empty two words on its top.
How could 'Sara's Box' convey all that she meant to me, all the love that still burned heavy in my chest? How could the starkness of a cardboard box show how much I was hurting and how much I'd lost?
One such time, when a tear was just forming in the corner of my eye, and the silence I was just beginning to get used to again bore heavy on my soul, I heard a knocking at my door.
Cursing whoever could be calling at this late hour, I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes and placed the box back in its chosen position. Walking to the door, I peered through my peephole to see Catherine standing patiently on my doorstep.
I just couldn't imagine why she was calling to see me and opened the door with a feeling of apprehension. She immediately looked up, surprising me with a concerned smile and her soft query.
"Hey Sofia, I was just wondered how you're coping."
Her words knocked me further round the loop.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"You know, with Sara running off like that; I take it she did leave you without warning, too?"
I really wanted to come out and deny the fact Sara had left me without a word, but I wasn't quite ready to let this woman know that Sara and I had even been together. I certainly wasn't ready to tell her any sort of truth. Instead, I prodded her to see just how much she really knew.
"What *are* you talking about, Catherine?"
She gave a gentle laugh, not a harsh laugh like I'd heard her use many times before, but a soft laugh that made me think she really did understand.
"Come on, Sofia, I may be a self-centred bitch most of the time, but I'm not blind and I saw Sara."
What did she mean by that? I still couldn't work out why she was visiting but, like the lonely fool I was, I invited her in, offered her a beer, and then we settled down on opposite ends of my large 3-seater couch. Running my hand reverently across the seat between us, I remembered the day it had been delivered, and how Sara had devised a glorious, energetic experiment to show it was plenty wide enough for two people to fall asleep on.
Catherine's quiet laughter alerted me to her presence, and I dared to ask her what she was doing here. Her words continued to surprise me.
"I might not have been great friends with Sara, but we did watch out for each other, you know?"
She must have seen my incredulous look because she explained further.
"Did you know it was Sara I called when I thought I'd been raped and that it was Sara who stayed with me and comforted me through the death of Sam?"
I remembered that time; it was just before Sara and I got together as a couple, when we were still what you might call dating. And yes, she had called off a couple of dates at that time with no concrete reason. Catherine must have seen the realization in my eyes.
"No, I didn't think so. Well she did; she was just what I needed at that time, a rock."
"We were like that, you know, there for each other. We didn't live in each other's pockets, and you couldn't even say we were great friends, but we both knew when the other needed something. Even our legendry disagreements were our way of taking care of each other. Often, I would see her getting bogged down in her mind, see that things were boiling, coming to the surface, and I knew she was ready to lose it. I'd goad her then, knowing damn well she'd blow me off, get the pressure out of her system, and then settle down. She'd be settled."
As Catherine talked, I remembered the times I'd watched them work together, marvelling at the easy way they knew each others methods. Sometimes, they'd finish each others sentences, or Sara would pass Catherine something without her asking, and I'd wonder how two strangers knew each other so well. Guess I was wrong all that time.
"I knew her secret, of course. It didn't take much to work out, and eventually, she told me. That's when I knew I was her safety valve. And I was, until it just stopped. She was calm; she was happy. She didn't need me. I could see she was settled. That was you, Sofia." She looked directly at me as her next words sank in. "You made her calm; she no longer needed my anger to feed off, she fed off your peace. I could see it in her eyes, she loved you."
I laughed without mirth, and Catherine smiled sadly.
"She did. But when Natalie entered our world; when she took Sara and hurt her so badly, something changed. And this time, I think she'd forgotten how to use me. She'd gotten so used to feeding off you, and for some reason, this time, she'd gone so far inside herself, even your peace couldn't stop her; she was slowly coming to a boil."
"Oh, I tried to goad her, really tried, but she just wouldn't bite. Whatever was in that head of hers was slowly eating away at her confidence, at her belief in everything we did. I could see she was disillusioned."
Watching Catherine talk, it was almost as if she was convincing herself that she'd tried enough, and I felt myself smiling inside. If there was one thing I knew about the Catherine and Sara relationship, it was that Catherine knew all the right buttons to push, so, if she couldn't get through, how the hell was I supposed to do it.
I jumped slightly as Catherine's hand touched mine carefully, bringing my focus back to her words.
"I watched you, Sofia, both of you. Every hour, she seemed to fall further and further away from our reality, and every hour, you became a little sadder as you failed to reach her. I knew exactly how you were feeling. When she left, I still watched you; sinking deeper and deeper into despair."
My eyes jerked up, and my mouth opened to deny her claim; I was stronger than that. She gripped my hand hard again and quickly continued her own words, preventing my denial from escaping.
"I can't let that happen, Sofia. This might sound stupid to you, but I let Sara down; I couldn't help her when it was most needed, and I can't, I won't, let that happen again. I will not let her down again. I owe her that much. I won't let you give in either, Sofia. She wouldn't want you to give in, and I won't let you."
I don't know what it was about her words, and the way she said them, but her face said it all; she meant every word of her promise. I lost it then, all the tears I'd held in, trying to maintain my strong police officer image, began to fall. And the words I'd refused to admit, even to myself, tumbled out.
"I miss her, Catherine, so much."
Suddenly, the distance between us disappeared, and I was pulled into her surprisingly strong embrace. She stroked my hair and whispered nothing in my ear, just holding me tight. I don't know how long we sat there or how many thoughts raced through my mind, but gradually, I calmed as something occurred to me.
At last, I knew, one day I'd understand why Sara left, one day she'd come walking back through that door and, with this woman's help, I'd be waiting.
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