Coffee cups clinked, and the crowd chattered. Steph nursed her decaff latte with soya milk and jumped every time the door jingled open.
Over half an hour late, Nat rushed in with her arms full of shopping bags. She wore a fetching tunic top and a pair of leggings. Her eyes scanned the coffee shop, and she waved at Steph. “Daniella, I’ll have a gingerbread latte and a cheesecake. Thank you, sweetheart.” With confidence, she glided through the tables and sat down opposite Steph. She dumped her bags and smiled. “How are you, hon? I wanted to catch up what with your gal being in such a state the last time we met.”
Steph held her cup tighter. She still couldn’t get used to Nick or Lori being referred to as “a gal”. She shrugged. “We haven’t seen Lori in two weeks. Not a peep. Not even nail varnish or women’s knickers.”
Daniella brought over the cheesecake and coffee.
“Thanks, Dani, love.” Nat smiled at her. “This looks so good. You not having, Steph?”
The cheesecake looked so damn good. Forget the diet. Steph wanted to feel shitty physically to match her mood. She needed to collapse in bed and be miserable. If the fibromyalgia was bad, she could do that. “Daniella, can you get me a slice? And I’ll have the caramel doughnut with custard.” If she was going to be ill Steph figured it might as well be worth the pain. It was not like she had to worry about turning Lori or Nick off as they still showed no interest in Steph.
“She’s probably having trouble admitting things to herself.” With the fork, Nat tucked in. “Scared herself back into the closet.”
“She shouted at me for using she as a pronoun the other day. Says I should use the pronoun she dictates. But I never get what is going on from day to day. I need something more concrete.” Steph held up her hand to stop Nat saying anything. She had to get this out. “It’s selfish of me but I need her to engage with me. I need to understand. She’s still barely speaking to me. I guess I need it to be our issue not Lori’s issue. Our daughter thinks we need a week away somewhere. Just the kids, Lori and me. It doesn’t help my mother’s living with us and she hates Nick. Nick doesn’t want her to know.”
“Your daughter sounds like a sensible kid.”
“Thanks.” Steph leant back so Daniella could lay down the cheesecake and doughnut.
“Dani, chick. You think Steph here should take her transitioning mtof spouse on holiday, you know try and get to know the woman?”
Daniella shrugged. “Worth a try.”
Steph glared at Nat.
“Don’t worry, chick,” Nat addressed Steph. “This is a safe environment and Dani has been my friend for years. She’s like my Stefan.”
It was still an invasion to have all and sundry told but then she’d done the very same thing to Nick when Nick had first come out. There wasn’t any reason to be ashamed. She looked up, gave Daniella a nod. “All advice welcome. Was Nat cagey, secretive and uncommunicative when she came out? I gather you’ve been in her life that long?”
Daniella shook her head. “Sorry. No.”
“Oh. Stefan and I have been a non couple for twenty-five years.” She squinted. “Speaking of the stylish hunk.”
“Ladies.” Stefan waltzed in. “How are you all?” He kissed Dani, Nat and then Steph on the cheek. “I was hoping I’d find you here. There’s an exhibition at the art gallery you should all see. And I’ll buy you dinner afterwards? When do you get off Dan?”
Steph concentrated on her cake. She tried not to be annoyed with him for not being in her life much. He had a lot on at work. It’s just she needed time with right now. Time alone with him to talk and not time with other people, virtual strangers.
“Oh my, Steph. I heard what Nick’s new name is. Bloody hell. Can you handle that?” Stefan sat down next to her and held Steph’s hands. “I am sorry. You know I’m opening a new shop.” He avoided her. “And I let you down.”
Steph nodded. “Yeah, I know. You’re busy. I’m fine.” She swallowed. “I will be fine.”
“No you’re not,” Stefan mouthed.
Nat raised an eyebrow. “Is there a problem?”
Tears formed in Steph’s eyes but she brushed them away and sniffed. “Lori Hudson was the girl that made my life at school a misery. I’ve never met another one.” She bit her lip. “I just need to get used to Nick being Lori. I’m sure it’ll be OK. I’m sure once we’ve had this time away that I will associate it with my Lori rather than that Lori.”
Stefan blinked. “Stop being so damn reasonable Steph. Your Lori is walking all over you. It’s tearing you apart. It’s time for Lori to throw you a bone.”
"Best Possible Taste" is very loosely based on real life events.