Chelsea and the Open Door

This is a series of short stories, detailing the adventures of Chelsea Childling. You can start with her origin story or pick something from the index.
***

Chelsea settled on the couch, her sketchbook in hand. She had been drawing more lately, getting away from the camera. Her usual subject lay napping the sun. Bentley’s tail covered his nose as he slept, rendering the huge mutt into an adorable puddle of fur.

She lost herself in the stroke of pencil on paper and the living room around her fuzzed out of existence. There was only the scritching of her work and the subject in front of her.

A shift on the couch brought her back to herself with a smile. Amber leaned over, dark eyes greedy as they studied the paper. “You draw differently now.”

Chelsea chuckled. “I’m rusty. I got really into photography in South Dakota; just started sketching again recently.”

“Hmmm.” Amber leaned on her shoulder. “I want a drawing. I’ll pay for it.”

All the moisture left Chelsea’s mouth. “I might have something better.” She reached past the couch to her art bag and pulled out an old sketchbook. It took a few moments to find the section she wanted. A series of abstractions, similar in composition but each unique. A series of odd blobs, all soft curves punctuated by jagged edges, contained in an hourglass-esque shape.

Amber smiled. “You used to draw that all the time.”

“It’s you, or for you.” Chelsea shook her head. “I never told you, but the overall shape is your back, and the smaller shapes–”

Amber frowned as she took the book and sat back. She flipped between pages, studying various versions. “So like what, a tattoo?”

“Or something. I could paint it for you, I guess.” Chelsea smiled. “But it’s yours. For you. However you want it. I want you to have it.”

Some emotion creased Amber’s brow for a long moment. “What do you have going on tonight?”

“Nothing that I know of.”

“Good. It’s my day off and I want to do some cooking.”

In a short time, Chelsea found herself in a small store filled with produce and foodstuffs she’d never seen before. Amber waved to the elderly woman behind the counter and called out a greeting in a language Chelsea didn’t know before heading down an aisle of spices

“The only good thing about New York is that there are actual stores with Cambodian food.” She picked up a can and stared at it. “I’m just never sure if I’m making this stuff right.”

A thread of empathetic sorrow wove through Chelsea and she rested her chin on Amber’s shoulder. “At least you can cook. Dad made ramen and Mama only made a little layer cake. We had a cook.”

Amber laughed. “I still can’t believe you gave all that up to hunt.”

“They’re dead. There was nothing to give up.”

Amber snorted. “You were rich.”

“Still am. But they’re still gone.” She put her arms around Amber’s waist. “I sold a huge empty house that I always hated. But if you want something smaller, I’m down.”

Amber laughed and moved along the aisle. “That’s nice, but you’ll never be happy in a house now, if you ever would have been.”

“I dunno.” Chelsea laughed. “Keegan always said I was the most domesticated hunter he ever met. And Andy tamed me pretty easily this summer.”

“Oh, that man can cook.” Amber rolled her eyes. “And now that you’re addicted, he’ll never do it again.”

Once Amber had her spices and vegetables, they headed back home. Soon the apartment was alive with fragrances, Chelsea vaguely remembered. “You’ve made this before. It’s a soup, right?”

“Yes, but now I have access to the good stuff.”

Chelsea sketched as Amber made her soup. A knock on the door revealed Andy, wine bottle in hand. “I come with a booze offering of peace.”

Amber rolled her eyes. “You finally gonna get off my ass about hunting?”

“Cross my heart, you surly bitch.” He did so before grabbing glasses from the cabinet. “Dinner smells amazing. I hope my wine goes well with it.”

Their banter got sharper with the wine, but Chelsea bathed herself in the warm moment. Her last few months on the road had been lonely. The name on her ringing cell phone doused in her ice water.

For a moment, she nearly didn’t answer, but even she knew there was no more procrastination. “Hey Jack.”

Amber and Andy froze.

Jackson’s cheery voice floated out of the speaker. “Hello, my little nun. What have you been up to?”

Jesus, my Lord and savior, give my strength.

“I’m putting you on speaker, Jack. I’m with Andy and Amber.”

Amber’s eyes went wide and her face paled as Andy muttered and shook his head.

Jackson, however, sounded as light and carefree as always. “Hey everybody! Is there something big in the city? You need my help?”

“Not really.” Chelsea took a long drink of wine. “I’m…” She took another long drink. “Remember when I said that I wanted to be with you but that I needed time to work some things out?”

“Yeah.” Caution threaded his voice. “Chelsea, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, but I’ve been doing that work because I do…” She sucked in a breath and tried to calm her thudding heart. “I really do love you.”

There was silence until Amber sniffed and wiped at her eyes.

Jack sucked in a deep breath. “I love you, too. So why the big announcement?”

“Because—” She coughed and took another long drink of wine. “Because I’m also in love with Amber.”

Andy let out a low whistle and drained his own glass. Amber studied the table.

After several heartbeats, Jackson cleared his throat. “Um… when- when did-”

Chelsea sighed. “A few months after you left, she needed a place to crash. Of course, I said yes.”

Jack’s mutter was dark and nearly lost in the speaker. “Of course.”

“And like I’ve said before, I took you at your word. You weren’t coming back. I moved on.” Chelsea grabbed Amber’s clammy hand and hung on. “And now I’m here, and I love both of you.”

“I see.” Jack took a deep breath. “And how does Amber feel about this?”

Amber pulled her hand away. “I don’t know, Jackson.” She stared at the phone on the table, face paling with each word. “I love you, but I know how you feel about me. And Chelsea…” She flashed dark eyes at Chelsea and then looked back at the phone. “She thinks we can work this out.”

Jack gave a bark of a laugh. “No, do you love her, too?”

Amber swallowed hard before pouring herself more wine. “I don’t deserve her for sure.”

“No.” Jack’s hard voice came as Chelsea’s stomach dropped. “Are you in love with her?”

Amber drank her wine, but couldn’t seem to catch her breath. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

Chelsea’s stomach flipped, but Andy’s rolling eyes calmed her nerves. His quiet conviction could be her faith for now.

“Fucking hell.” Jack’s voice got faster with every word. “This is… Chelsea, she’s using your feelings for her to get to me. And I’m not going to be a part of this. I never should have let her hunt with us back then.”

Andy stepped forward. “Jackson, my favorite lecherous leprechaun, you have a prejudice here.”

“Don’t start your shit. You could have stopped this before Chelsea got hurt more.” Actual anger, such as Chelsea, had never heard, shook Jackson’s voice. “If I thought for one second that I could trust Amber, I’d bother to finish listening to whatever Chelsea had to say. But I’m not going to hurt her again. Not for this.” He sucked in a deep breath. “I’m sorry I got angry. Chelsea, I love you. I will call you soon.”

It took three tries to form words. “Okay, Jack.”

Anger shook his voice once more. “Be careful.” And with that, the call ended.

Chelsea sighed and held out her glass for more wine. “That could have been better.”

Andy refilled his glass. “He left the door open.”

“He did?” Amber scratched Bentley’s ears before wiping at her face.

“Yup.” Andy settled at the table between the two of them. “If you, Miss Bitch, can convince him that you are also really in love with our nun, he’ll listen to her proposal.”

Hope rose in Chelsea and she beamed at the room. She knew Amber loved her. It was just a matter of time and patience. “So, when is that soup ready?”

***

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