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For Better, For Worse

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FALL 2011: NEW YORK CITY, NY

 

"I, Louise Miller, take you, Deborah Ocean, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us, I give you myself." 


FALL 2013: NICHOLS WOMEN’S PRISON, NJ

 

“Ocean?”

 

The brunette looked up, sweaty and exhausted, just desperate for some sleep. Maybe that’s how you got used to prison. You didn’t care what you were wearing or if you had to pee in front of other people, you just wanted to be able to sleep.

 

“Finished processing your paperwork. Your personal effects stay with us. You don’t have any religious jewelry or anything so—oh,” the woman paused. “Wedding band. Lucky day, Ocean. You can keep the wedding band on if you want it.”

 

Debbie’s face grew cold and she swallowed thickly, eyes hardened as they took in the intricate gold band the guard held between her fingertips.

 

The skin color was wrong. She could still see porcelain finger tips holding up the band, white silk and satin behind them. Blonde curls above them. The cool metal sliding around her own finger. A kiss brushed against the band and then her palm.

 

“With this ring...”

 

Deep, ocean blue eyes flashed before her own.  A sharp jawline. Perfectly curved, soft, pink lips.

 

“Inmate!” The woman barked, and Debbie’s head snapped up, the hazy out of focus ring disappearing from her line of sight. “Take it or say goodbye to it for the next six years.”

 

“Keep it,” Debbie spoke lowly. “I don’t want it.”

 

And as she lay in bed, staring at the white concrete wall that night, tears stinging in her eyes as they started to water, she played with her empty ring finger, wishing she had said yes. Yes, to keeping the ring. Yes, to Lou driving her here. Yes, to saying a proper goodbye. To doing the right thing. The thing that her heart wanted, instead of her head, for once maybe. 

 

“Lou,” Debbie’s hoarse voice whispered with a crack. “Lou, I’m sorry.”


2015: NEW YORK

 

It’s worse than irony. It’s cruel. It’s absolutely cruel. It becomes legal in all fifty states just two years after Debbie is behind bars and Lou wonders if she even knows.

 

If she even realizes. 

 

Lou plays with the gold band on her ring finger, twisting it back and forth, moving it up and down. She wishes she wanted to lock it away. Hide it from herself. She wishes she had the strength to take it with her on her bike and throw it into the woods or into the ocean. But she’s too weak and too strong rolled in one. So here it sits. On her finger day by day. 

 

She wonders if Debbie’s is at the prison locked away in a ziploc or a container. Or if she’d even bothered to hang onto it at all. 


2018: NEW YORK

 

 “At least your partner acknowledges that you’re married to each other,” Lou scoffed.

 

“Well, that’s giving him a lot of credit,” Tammy smiled.

 

“If somehow he ever went off to...he wouldn’t...” the Australian sighed, unable to put words to her thoughts. But she knew Tammy would get the gist of it.

 

“No, he wouldn’t.” Tammy spoke softly.

 

Tammy had invited herself over to the loft for dinner. Lou had been avoiding her per usual and Lou had refused to be in a house with children while she was sober, and since she hadn’t had a drink in a couple of years, Tammy had showed up at the loft with lasagna and salad in tow.

 

“I have a wife who won’t speak to me,” Lou laughed bitterly, pushing around sauce with her fork. “My wife won’t return my calls.”

 

Tammy was laughing darkly along with Lou now.

 

“I have a better relationship with my brother-in-law,” Lou sighed. “Well, had.”

 

That was something that still surprised Lou. After her fallout with Debbie, she thought Danny would have beaten her to a pulp when instead, he showed up at the apartment one night with beer and announced that pizza was on the way and he was here to listen to Lou’s side of things. 

 

Evidently, he sided more with the blonde than his sister, although he swore Lou to secrecy. Once Debbie was in jail, the visits only got more frequent between them. They mostly sat in silence to watch a movie or bike somewhere together, following each other on the highway out into the unknown. They’d reach a mutual understanding of wanting to be alone and not sharing feelings while still needing to know someone else was out there for them going through the same thing even if they had processed it entirely differently.

 

Tammy winced. She knew how close the two had gotten and the news and shock of Danny’s death, real or not, was still raw and deep.

 

“Does she even know?” Lou asked nervously. It had only been a few weeks and she had wondered how Debbie had taken the news, but now she wondered why she had never even asked if Debbie was aware or if her so-called friends had decided to wait until she was on the outside.

 

Tammy nodded. “Rusty went over there. Reuben too.”

 

“But I didn’t.” Lou frowned. She was relieved that Debbie knew, but upset with herself suddenly. But it wouldn’t have made any sense for her to show up out of the blue, after years of not seeing Debbie, just to say “hey, your brother is dead” and disappear again.

 

“You didn’t.” Tammy agreed, sounding almost disappointed.

 

“You think I should have been the one to tell her?” Lou asked, eyebrows raised. “Tell the woman who hasn’t spoken to me in over four years. Who, as you know, is married to me, and doesn’t want anything to do with me. I should’ve been the one to tell her that her brother, her best friend, is dead.”

 

“I thought you were her best friend,” Tammy muttered.

 

The blonde scoffed in response. “I’m a con.”

 

Tammy sighed. “I don’t mean what you do for a living I mean...”

 

“Not a con artist,” Lou corrected herself. “A con for Debbie. No better than a fucking tourist with a bucket of quarters or a croupier.”

 

“Lou,” Tammy warned.

 

“She convinced me that she was in love with me,” Lou hissed, locking eyes with Tammy. They were starting to water against her will. “She conned me.”

 

“You know that’s not true,” Tammy sympathized.

 

“Do I? I thought I knew her,” Lou frowned, shaking her head. Things had been so good. They had been so in love. And then it all disappeared, dragging the rug right out from under her and landing her flat on her ass, shocked and confused as to what they had built over a series of years that ran away so quickly out of nowhere. “But does anyone really know Debbie Ocean?”

 

“Beats me.” Tammy shrugged, sliding her plate towards the center of the table.

 

“I don’t want to see her in prison,” Lou decided. It was moot to admit. They both knew Lou had never gone or even attempted to make her way there or have any contact with Debbie at all.

 

“You sure?” Tammy asked. Lou knew she was hoping that Danny’s death would at least bring her and Debbie together, even if just for a visit. “I know it can be hard to see someone in there especially when it’s—"

 

“Yes,” Lou spat. “I don’t want to see her in there, and I don’t want to see her when she gets out. I’m done. I’m fucking done with her.”

 

“Can I ask you something without you punching me in the face?” Tammy quipped, blotting at her mouth with a napkin.

 

“You can try,” Lou smirked, but it was sincere.

 

“Why are you wearing her clothes?”

 

Lou frowned and looked down at her lap. She decided not to answer as she repeated the question to herself over and over and over, wondering why the hell herself. The blonde hadn’t even done it consciously, but she realized that she’d done it a few times this week alone. She wondered how often she’d actually been doing it. When that had even started…

 

“Grey slacks? Black button down? No vest, no leather pants, no gaping neckline. Those are Debbie’s.”

 

Lou pursed her lips, overly glad that Tammy couldn’t observe that she was also wearing a pair of Debbie’s underwear. And maybe her perfume.

 

“Didn’t feel like doing laundry,” Lou lied.

 

“Right,” Tammy rolled her eyes.

 

“Right,” Lou repeated, boring fiery eyes into Tammy’s own. Tammy put her hands up in defeat.

 

“Just think about it. Sleep on it for a night or so,” Tammy smiled softly, putting her hand on Lou’s. Lou shrugged it off. “You might be mad at her, but you’re not done with her. Not yet. I know you don’t break promises lightly, and well…this promise came with vows and some rings.”


2018: NICHOLS WOMEN’S PRISON, NJ

 

“What do you mean I can’t see her?” Lou sighed. She didn’t want to be here in the first place, but there was guilt and regret tugging at her heart. And now that she’d gotten her hopes up, she was running into roadblocks left and right, and the holdbacks were making her realize how badly she needed to see Debbie. Craved it. It physically hurt now that she’d set her mind on it.

 

“I’m sorry,” the man shrugged. “There’s no record of a Lou Miller here.”

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Lou huffed, but she tried to collect herself. “Does there need to be a record? Can’t I just see her? Please.”

 

“Not unless you’re in the book under inmate Ocean’s history of visitors,” he shook his head. “You said you’ve visited before?”

 

“No,” she looked down. “First time.” This was the first time in five years she’d even attempted to see her partner. What a fucking asshole she was.

 

She tried to ignore the pang in her heart and the bile in her stomach that churned with disgust she felt at hearing Debbie referred to as an inmate. How the hell had she not come sooner? There may have been a lot of anger, jealousy, and devastation between them, but she should’ve done the right thing. Should’ve tossed aside the I told you so she still clung to deep down and ran to Debbie to offer her something even if it was just commissary money or magazines. She hadn’t given her shit to hang onto while she was stuck inside here and she wanted to sit down on the floor and cry.

 

There was time with Debbie she already wanted to rip back from the universe and now she had a sentence of five years she wanted to tack onto it. Why had she been so god damn stubborn? There were certain events that just forced you to get over yourself and toss issues aside, and prison was definitely one of them. Anger and hurt had blinded her too much.

 

“Oh,” he nodded. “Then you need to be screened before you can visit. Lou Miller is your legal name?”

 

“It’s Louise,” she sighed.

 

“Miller?”

 

“Ocean,” she corrected with a small smile. “I’m her wife.”