Lesbian Romance Previews

The Mountain

Jessica Cooper stepped back and critically surveyed the old station wagon. She ignored the dents and the coloured patches on the fenders. The vehicle was parked outside the apartment complex where she lived for the past eighteen months. The old car was loaded with boxes, bags and memories.
‘Well …,’ Jessica announced to her friend Chiyoko, ‘… it looks like I’m ready to go, Chi.’
‘It’s a long way,’ Chi said doubtfully, eyeing the vehicle. ‘You think this old car is going to make it?’
‘Junior and Dad looked it over for me. Junior swears by it. Says it’s not pretty but it will get me there.’
‘If your brother says it’s okay, it must be. Your brother sure knows about cars,’ Chi said. ‘So does your Dad. You won’t speed, will you? You’ll drive safely, right?’
‘I doubt this car can speed! Don’t worry, I’m taking my time. I have a list of motels along the way so I can call ahead. Don’t forget, they have a place for me to live near the clinic.’
Chiyoko nodded and put her hands on her friend’s shoulders, looking deeply into the eyes of the smaller blonde. ‘Are you sure about this, Jess? We’re going to miss you at the hospital.’
‘And I’m going to miss you guys but … well, time for me to try something different.’
‘Different?’ Chi laughed. ‘This is certainly that, honey! You haven’t even been to the place you’re moving to! The interview for the job was on Skype! You haven’t met anyone from there or even seen the town!’
‘I kind of like that, Chi,’ Jess said defensively. ‘It’s all new.’
‘What is the name of the place again?’
Little Hatfield,’ Jess said patiently. ‘Not to be confused with Hatfield Junction which is fifty-three miles away.’
‘ls that the big Hatfield?’ Chi asked innocently.
‘Oooh, you are so funny! The clinic is in Little Hatfield, as well you know, Chi. I’ve told you a million times!’
Little Hatfield. Sounds very rural! Maybe even dark and gothic. You’d better look out. They could all be zombies or something!’
‘Okay, time to cut yourself off from those weird shows, Chi! You’re starting to freak me out!’ Jess laughed. ‘Don’t worry, okay? I’ll be fine. It’s a new start for me.’
‘I know, I know. Well …’
‘Go on, say it.’
‘It’s just … not every woman runs off to the mountains when she breaks off her engagement!’
‘I’m not running, Chi!’ Jess said defiantly. ‘I’m exploring!’
‘Exploring? Well, okay.’ Chi laughed and hugged Jess. ‘Email, phone, visit!’
‘Which one?’ Jess asked playfully.
‘All of the above. Are you heading off now?’
‘Dropping the keys off, saying goodbye to my parents and then I’m gone!’

..

Nancy Cooper looked out the kitchen window the moment the brown station sedan parked in the driveway. Realising Jess had come to say goodbye, Nancy sighed, carefully drying her hands.
‘In the kitchen,’ Nancy called when she heard the front door open. ‘Are you all ready to go?’ Nancy asked when Jess walked into the kitchen and kissed her mother’s cheek.
‘Yep. Already said goodbye to Dad and Junior down at the garage. I’m on my way.’
‘You know I wish you weren’t going,’ Nancy said as lightly as she could. ‘I thought you were settled here for good …’
‘Don’t really want to talk about that,’ Jess said firmly. ‘It’s all done and that’s that.’
‘Have you talked to Brian?’
‘Nope!’
‘He stopped by the other day …’
‘Good for him!’ Jess snapped. ‘Well, I’m off.’
‘Jess, stay for a coffee before you go …’
‘And hear what Brian has been saying? No thank you! I’ll contact you when I’m settled.’
‘Jess …’
‘Bye. Have to go.’
The front door slammed. Nancy sighed again. She knew she shouldn’t have mentioned Brian, but the poor man seemed broken hearted. He said he didn’t know how to talk to Jess, that she was changed since college and everything else. And Nancy knew there was truth in that statement!

..

Immediately, Jess regretted leaving her mother that way. As she backed the vehicle into the quiet suburban street, Jess knew she should go back and apologise. It wasn’t right to leave like this, especially when they didn’t know when they would see each other again. But Jess knew if she did reluctantly apologise and sit down for coffee, her mother would still talk about Brian. Even though she knew Jess didn’t want to hear it!
She always liked Brian, Jess thought, driving the vehicle away from the house. Brian is good at getting people to like him. Maybe my mother likes Brian more than she likes me!
As Jess drove down the familiar streets with the knowledge she was leaving it all behind, she felt a sensation of relief coupled with a growing sense of freedom.
She had no idea what Little Hatfield would be like, but Jess didn’t care. So what if the town was quiet? After medical school, two years in the army, then another two years in ER at the hospital, Jessica Cooper could use a little peace and quiet!

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Voyagers

The two women stepped from the sleek black car, shivering a little in the chilly wind and misty rain, islands in a sea of activity, their driver unloading the trunks and suitcases from the car.
Porters scurried back and forth, splashing through the puddles on the dock surface, taking the luggage and piling the trunks on a large wooden barrow they pulled up the gangplank to the waiting ocean liner.
Abby, wrapped in her woollen coat, hair jammed into a soft brown hat, calmly took in the scene while her friend, Millie chattered on.
The ocean liner towered over them in the rain, the large blue and white funnels almost vanishing into the mist, tricolour flags fluttering wildly in the relentless wind while sailors scurried over the decks like white ants.
The stream of passengers hurried through the gates and, leaning into the wind and rain, moved quickly, almost running, up the canvas walled gangway, disappearing into the ship.
The day was grey and mournful. Rain driven almost vertically by the bitter wind. Even the puddles on the concrete were rippling from the persistent blustery weather.
The drive from London had been bitterly cold with rain constantly beating on the windshield, the slow wipers drumming a sad tune.
Autumn was here so quickly, Abby had thought as she watched the green countryside flash past the window. Sadly, Abby seemed unable to muster any excitement for the forthcoming voyage.
Millie, however, had chattered on for most of the journey. Cheerfully gossiping and joking, laughing uproariously. The driver stoically ignored all her risqué asides and stared doggedly through the windscreen wipers at the road ahead.
However, Millie did feel a little car-sick by the time they reached Winchester so they had broken the journey for a cup of tea and, even though it was still raining, a walk around the famous cathedral. Abby and Millie had walked around arm in arm while the driver stayed with the car and smoked a cigarette. Everything seemed so grey somehow to Abby, even with the lush green grass, and she felt greyness had seeped deep into her very self, into her very soul.
The unnatural greyness was everywhere on this last August day of 1939. It wasn’t just the unseasonable weather; all of England was gloomy, sure war with Germany was inevitable.
There had been that brief moment of false hope raised by Prime Minister Chamberlain, but now the realisation of the surety of war had sunk in. Most people anxiously and a little numbly waited for the conflict to begin. Perhaps almost wished it would start just so they could then wish it to be over. Daily, they discussed the events in Europe, devouring the newspapers morning and afternoon, trying to second-guess Chancellor Hitler’s next move and, perhaps, win the war before it really began.
Abby had also noticed that people suddenly focussed on the little things in life. Each small part of their lives became important to preserve while they waited for the conflict to begin. Anxiously, they gazed across the Channel, perhaps imagining the large black cloud of Hitler’s National Socialism that threatened to overcome the world.

For the last few weeks, Abby found a small and insular sadness had slipped inside her. She constantly felt a little melancholy, always sad but not completely understanding why.
Everyone around her, especially Millie, expected Abby to be happy and gay. A girl who is about to be married should be, they said, almost lecturing her, but she couldn’t find this expected joy. And when they spoke joyously of the wedding and how happy Abby should be, Abby managed a bleak smile and masked the nausea that came with any mention of the coming wedding.
Not understanding her sadness was frustrating, and it seemed to weigh even more heavily upon her, but Abby kept her feelings quite to herself. Instead, she forced herself to project a veneer of happiness, a shallow pretence, but no one, not even Millie, noticed what Abby was really feeling.
Abby tried to convince herself that it was the threat of war that caused her to feel so completely sad. Everyone was, after all, talking about it, but deep inside, intuitively, she knew it wasn’t the real reason. It was something else, and the fact she couldn’t identify the reason puzzled her all the more.
‘I think your father is the most gorgeous man, I really do, Abby,’ Millie said, continuing her conversation from the car without stopping for a breath, her eyes roving over the huge ocean liner, La Scala, moored at the wharf. ‘Fancy paying so I could go first class as well,’ Millie added, turning her shining and excited face to Abby. ‘It’s so kind of him.’
‘He is generous, I suppose,’ Abby murmured. ‘Still, why wouldn’t father pay for you? You are my bridesmaid after all,’ Abby said, watching the porters in their orange raincoats push cargo barrows around the wharf. ‘And by the way, it’s referred to as ‘Cabin Class’, not ‘First Class’,’ she pedantically corrected Millie.
‘All right, Cabin Class, if you insist but he didn’t have to. I could have gone second class or even third class, whatever you wish to call them. Is there a baggage class?’ she asked innocently. ‘Seriously, your father is such a nice man, although he’s always got that sorrowful look. I suppose all artists have it, rather like a big puppy?’ she chattered on, keenly watching a group of sailors run past, dodging the rain.
A big puppy, Abby wondered silently. I don’t think father would like that description at all. Do I get my sadness from him?
Ever since her mother had died, Abigail could not recall her father smiling happily, not even once.
Millie continued to bubble with her usual bright energy. ‘He even paid for me to stay at the Dorchester, that was really lovely, a real treat.’
It was the first time Millie had stayed at the Dorchester and she had been constantly sparkling in her excitement. Abby had stayed there once when her father had taken her there soon after the grand opening in April 1931, after they had returned from Vienna.
Abby’s mother had died the Christmas before and so Abby was trying so hard to be grown up, walking beside her father, his arm through hers as he showed his daughter the now famous ballroom. He had enthusiastically pointed out that the huge room had no pillars, an architectural miracle that had been completely lost on her while she shyly behaved as Abby imagined a woman should behave.
As he led her around she had self-consciously avoided her reflection in the mirrored walls, and even now as a young woman she still avoided her reflection in those elegant mirrors.
Millie had been more enthusiastic about the ballroom yesterday than Abby had been when she first saw it all those years ago. Gently touching the mirrored walls with their sparkling studs in wonderment, Millie had exclaimed that it was the most beautiful place she had ever seen, a place where she would love to hold her wedding reception someday.
Through all the years, Abby had always admired how Millie enthusiastically embraced life. Millie’s approach to everything had the eagerness of a small child. She had gusto and a passion while Abby evenly and steadfastly plodded down her carefully chosen path. To many, it seemed Abby had a fear of changing her mind once a decision was made, and her friends knew that once Abby had made a decision, she never deviated from it.
‘Look at that bloke up there,’ Millie said with her usual bright zeal, interrupting Abby’s thoughts and pointing up the gangway. They could make out a tall man in a white uniform greeting the passengers. ‘I love a uniform on a man,’ Millie smiled, and winked.
‘Do you think of anything other than men?’ Abby said, sounding more exasperated than she intended, but Millie was used to Abby’s ways so she chose to ignore the comment.
‘Unfortunately, I’m not about to be married like you. I’m still looking for my prince charming, although I’m beginning to think he’ll never show. Not many handsome men on white horses in London, darling.’
‘You’ll find your prince charming, I know you’ll find him, or he’ll find you soon enough,’ Abby said quickly, trying to make amends for her tone.
‘I hope so,’ she said a little wistfully. ‘I’ve got the names of my children picked out already.’
‘Children? Millie, there’s no need to rush!’
Millie shook her head, ‘Yes there is, dear. A girl at my age, what else can I do? Now,’ she said, changing the subject and taking her friend’s hand. ‘Your last moments in England as a single woman, Abby. Any last important words or adventurous acts?’ Millie laughed at the thought of Abby doing anything adventurous.
‘I can just imagine the shocking story in The Times, front page.’ Millie adopted a deep and serious tone, her brow wrinkled as her round face adopted a serious expression. ‘On departing England for a new life in America, Miss Abigail Wilkins, daughter of the famous artist Howard Wilkins, was seen in the early hours of the morning walking bare foot along the deck after dancing all night with a handsome young lieutenant.’ Returning to her usual voice, Millie teased, ‘I think you would shock everyone terribly if you did something like that.’
Millie laughed and hugged Abby. ‘Anything wild you want to do, anybody you want to pull from the crowd and kiss passionately?’ she asked, beaming devilishly at Abby, who couldn’t help herself but smile back at Millie, Abby’s best friend since boarding school. ‘No? Didn’t think so.’ Millie giggled. ‘Somehow, old girl, I can’t see you ever doing anything wild.’
‘There is a time and place for everything and I don’t believe there are lieutenants at sea.’ Abby said a little more primly than she wished, immediately hating the sound of her words, and Millie laughed.
‘Good old straight laced Abby.’ Millie smiled warmly and Abby returned the smile, admiring Millie’s confident approach to life and her bright sense of humour.
Millie squeezed Abigail’s hand and her eyes drifted up to the gangway, fastening on the young man in his white uniform who was greeting the Cabin Class passengers. ‘Well, speaking of time, I think the time is exactly right for me to meet that handsome bloke up there, whatever he’s called, so let’s go.’
A gust of wind swirled through the two young women. They giggled self-consciously as they struggled to keep their coats and skirts down, scurrying up the gangway, their faces cold and red raw in the spitting rain.
Somewhere in the distance a tugboat sounded a deep and sombre tone as seagulls fluttered around them. Some seagulls perched on the handrail to watch the two women hurry up the slippery gangway to a new life, leaving the old one behind in grey England.
Greeting the dark haired and smiling young man in the tight white uniform, Millie smiled broadly and immediately began to tell him the reason for their voyage. As Millie chattered to him, describing the trip to New York, how Abby was to be married and how famous her father was, Abby’s mind started to drift and she turned to the rail to look back over Southampton through the wild wind and the rain.
The storm that blanketed the port seemed to be appropriate in these uncertain times; despite Prime Minister Chamberlain’s claims to the contrary, war was coming. 

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Lighthouse Beach

Feeling good from her morning workout, and fresh from her shower, Sara poured coffee into her favourite blue mug. Dressed for work in her usual black jacket and trousers with a white blouse, she sipped the coffee standing at the floor to ceiling windows of her apartment. The apartment building was on the edge of the harbour and her penthouse enjoyed mainly water views. The city skyline was just visible to the left around the curve of the harbour. More importantly, she could see the tall Richardson Building on the edge of the city centre.

Her mobile beeped and, frowning, Sara immediately read the message from Jenny Clarke, her assistant.

‘Jesus!’ Sara muttered. She then pressed a button on her phone and waited until the call was answered. ‘Alberta?’ Sara said briskly, absently flicking her dark fringe back from her eyes. She wore her hair to the collar with a slight fringe. It was dark and spiky with a slight part.

Alberta Connor, the Personnel Director for Richardson Developments, answered cautiously. ‘Good morning, Sara.’

Sara brushed the greeting aside. ‘My assistant texted me. Claims she is ill!’

‘Oh. Again?’

Yes, again! Get rid of her, Berta!’

‘Sara, you can’t fire someone for being sick,’ Alberta said gently. ‘Let me check on the system to see how much leave Jenny has.’ A moment’s silence and Sara waited impatiently before Alberta continued. ‘She has two sick days left…’

‘And she has just completed probation! I can’t rely on her, Berta!’ Sara said, still using the shortened version of the other woman’s name. They had known each other for a long time.

‘You still can’t fire her for being sick…’ Alberta sighed. ‘Jenny can’t help not being assertive enough for you…’

‘If I can’t fire her, move her. Stick her somewhere else in the company.’

Another sigh from Alberta. ‘I’ll talk to her. Maybe you just scare her.’

’Me?’ Sara was genuinely surprised.

‘Yes, you! Don’t pretend to be surprised. I’ll work something out. I’ll call her.’

‘Whatever you do, I don’t want to see her again, Berta.’

‘I know,’ Alberta said wearily.

Sara disconnected, dropped the mobile into her leather brief case and checked her appearance in the mirror.

Tall, slim with broad shoulders and dark hair, Sara Richardson was an imposing figure. Although she rarely smiled, Sara had an attractive intensity about her that drew attention. She did not wear much make-up, just lip gloss occasionally, but her unexpected blue eyes were large and intelligent.

Riding the private elevator down to the basement car park, Sara’s mind was already focused on the day and the moment she was in her red Mercedes sports car, she slipped her mobile into the hands-free slot and began to make calls.

‘Sara,’ Jorge Torres, the Director of Operations answered quickly. ‘Good morning… ’

‘I see the architect’s panel is scheduled for ten?’

‘Yes. It’s been in your diary for a week… ’

‘My useless assistant didn’t tell me…’

‘Oh?’

‘No. What is this meeting about?’

Jorge sighed. ‘Sara, you said you wanted to approve and be involved in our next big project so we selected ten local firms, sent them the specs of the Holloway project and asked them to attend today to present over views of a concept.’

‘Fine. That’s what I want.’

‘You should know,…’ Jorge said flatly. ‘…that we’ve been getting a little flak from locals about this project.’

‘Oh? What sort of flak?’

‘Locals that want to keep the Holloway house.’

‘I see. Who else will be on the panel?’

‘Steve.’ Steve Hubbard was the Director of Legal & Finance for the Richardson Developments.

‘Okay,’ Sara grunted.

‘So, you will be there?’

‘Yep.’

For all the presentations?’ Jorge pressed.

‘Unless there is a problem somewhere else, I’ll stick around.’

‘Good. See you at ten.’

Alberta strode down the corridor towards Sara’s office. Alberta was a black woman with a few grey hairs that she refused to colour and a fondness of elegant designer business suits. She had been with Richardson Developments since inception and had known Sara for a long time.

Sara was trying to find something on her desk computer when Alberta walked in and said, without preamble, ‘Jenny has resigned. She’s been looking for another job and found one today.’

‘Good,’ Sara grunted.

‘That was the reason for her sick days. She took time off to look for a job. Do you want to know her reason for leaving?’

‘Not really.’

‘I’m going to tell you anyway,’ Alberta said firmly. ‘She said you were demanding, unreasonable…’

’Unreasonable? That’s a load of…’

‘That you shouted at her, that you insulted her…’

‘If she did her job, Berta, I wouldn’t have to shout…’

Alberta shook her head in frustration. ‘Sara, you have to treat people well…’

‘I pay them well!’ Sara said, jaw set with determination.

‘That’s not all there is, Sara and you know it. I have to tell you, I’m tired of this eighteen month bad mood of yours! I’m looking forward to you going back to that sweet kid I used to talk to on the phone…’

‘She’s gone! I think she vanished the day I had to move here,’ Sara said bitterly.

‘Come on, Sara. It’s not that bad…’

‘Yes, it is! And, as far as Jenny is concerned, if we pay people well, they should do their job well in return!’

‘Okay, okay,’ Alberta said in surrender. ‘I’ll start looking for a new assistant for you.’

She paused at the door and Sara looked up.’Anything else, Berta?’

‘A friend of my little sister is coming for a visit. I wondered if you would be interest…’

Sara rolled her eyes and interrupted. ‘Let me guess. Your sister’s friend is gay and you offered me as a blind date!’

‘Well…’

‘Am I the only gay woman you know, Berta?’

‘I just thought you had something in common…’

‘We’re both gay?’ Sara said dryly.

‘More than that!’ Alberta said crossly. ’She played basketball…’

‘I’m not interested…’

‘Why not?’ Alberta said defensively. ‘When was the last time you went on a date?’

‘I’m not interested, Berta. I like being on my own.’

‘I don’t believe that for a minute!’

‘Believe it or not,…’ Sara said mildly. ‘…I am not interested in blind dates or dates of any kind.’

‘You just haven’t met the right woman…’

‘That’s for sure,’ Sara said emphatically.

‘How are you going to find the right one if you don’t go on dates?’

‘I’ve given up,’ Sara said, scrolling through files on the computer.

‘You never give up on anything!’ Alberta said with a laugh.

‘I have on that. Now, I have to get ready for a meeting.’

The Weakness in Me

Why do you come here
When you know I’ve got troubles enough
Why do you call me
When you know I can’t answer the phone

Make me lie
When I don’t want to
And make someone else
Some kind of an unknowing fool

You make me stay
When I should not
Are you so strong
Or is all the weakness in me
(Written and performed by Joan Armatrading)

The only reason I remained with Blake, Lawson and Calder was the money and, of course, the prestige of working for a law firm that everyone in the London legal community recognised and respected as winners.

It also helped that Jeremy worked for the same firm but in a different field than mine.

Exactly what was my relationship with Jeremy?

I was wondering more and more about that as the days passed. I knew when he kissed me hello he had not missed me! When he held me, I knew he did not know me really and did not seem that interested to discover the real me!

Still, I persevered with the relationship. Luckily, we were both busy and being with Jeremy gave me an aura of respectability.

We lived together but we only talked about the firm and legal cases, the sex was almost perfunctory and there was absolutely zero romance!

The firm seemed to be the only thing we had in common! We even practised in different areas with Jeremy in corporation law while I found myself in criminal law.

I don’t know why I focused on criminal law but the senior partners were pleased with my results. Of course, the only results the partners were really interested were the billable hours I brought in.

‘Jonathan has been looking for you, Jennifer,’ Lexie, my assistant said as soon as I walked into my office.

‘Really? It’s a little early, isn’t it?’

‘He seemed excited. Told me to ask you to go upstairs the moment you came in.’

‘Okay. I guess I won’t be able to drink my tea.’

‘It’ll keep. Is Jeremy still in Brussels?’

‘He’ll be back at the end of the week.’

I checked my hair and face in my compact before turning for the door.

‘Good luck,’ Lexie called.

Jonathan’s secretaries (he had two) were almost identical. They were blonde, big in the chest and smiled too much to be genuine. Jonathan also insisted in formality in staff interaction, a rule that Lexie and I cautiously ignored in my office.

‘Good morning, Ms Sanders. You can go in.’

I nodded, tapped on the oak panelled door and stepped inside Jonathan’s extremely large office.

‘Ah, Jennifer. I have some great news.’

I waited to see if he would ask me to sit down. It was a vain hope and typical of Jonathan to keep his staff standing while he sat.

‘Have you heard of Grant Bassingthwaite?’

‘The businessman who was arrested for rape?’

‘That’s the one. Apparently, he has sacked his legal team and has asked Blake, Lawson and Calder to take over.’

I nodded. ‘I suppose that’s good news…’ I murmured and Jonathan frowned.

‘Good news? It’s fucking great news! This will be a long case and Bassingthwaite has a lot of money to throw at it. He wants to prove his innocence.’

‘Is he innocent?’ I asked quietly.

‘Who knows and who cares! You will be lead on this, Jennifer.’

‘Me?’ I said surprised. ‘I’m a junior barrister. I don’t have the experience to handle…’

‘Tom MacManus will be there.’

‘Tom? Well, if that’s the case, he should be lead…’

‘In reality he will be the lead but as far as the media is concerned, you are the lead!’

‘Oh, I see. It looks better to have a woman defending Bassingthwaite?’ I said a little bitterly.

Jonathan beamed happily. ‘Of course it does. A little window dressing always helps a case. The team is assembling in conference room four. Tom is going through the strategy now.’

‘Great,’ I murmured and walked quickly out of the office.Inwardly, I was seething but outwardly, I appeared (I hoped) to be placid and calm. The overt misogyny was another reason why I secretly hated Blake, Lawson and Calder!

.

Tom introduced me to the paralegals and interns on the team and then, taking my elbow, moved me to a corner so we could talk quietly.

‘Jonathan spoke to you?’

‘Yes,’ I said bitterly. ‘I am the window dressing! You run the defence!’

‘You’re not window dressing, Jennifer,’ Tom said firmly. ‘You are very good and have a promising future but…’

‘…I don’t have the experience! I know that, Tom. I just don’t like being in this situation!’

‘I understand but let’s make the best of it, shall we?’

.

The day did not become any better as Jonathan called a media conference to announce the team that would be working on the defence of Grant Bassingthwaite. I hated having to stand there and smile while Jonathan prattled on. Thankfully, I didn’t have to speak and managed to sidestep a few journalists who wanted a comment.

The second day of the defence preparation was awful and slightly humiliating but I put up with it.

I called Jeremy in Brussels, of course, and complained bitterly but, as usual, he took Jonathan’s side. Jeremy thought I should do my best for the “good of the firm”.

There was no doubt that comment annoyed me even more than being “window dressing”!

That night, I wearily rode the elevator up to the apartment Jeremy and I shared.
It did not feel like a home and was quite sterile.

‘Just like our relationship,’ I murmured as I walked to the front door of the apartment.

Unlocking the door, I stepped inside the dim apartment and closed the door behind me.

It was at that moment, I sensed there was someone else in the apartment!

Heart pounding, I peered into the living room, praying I would see Jeremy sprawled on the sofa but the room was empty.

‘Is anyone there?’ I called nervously.

Suddenly, I smelled perfume and, as I whirled around I was seized in strange embrace and strange smelling cloth was pressed over my mouth and nose.

I’m going to die! Or be raped! Maybe both!

They were my last thoughts as I slipped into darkness.

.
At first, when I flickered to the surface, I thought I was blind! My hands tried to move to my eyes but were held by something tight around each wrist!

The panic subsided when I felt the blindfold covering my eyes, cloth with a hint of exotic perfume, the same perfume I smelled when I first walked into my apartment.

A light breeze tickled over my body told me I was naked and laying on a bed, a realisation that made the panic revisit me.

I pulled against the bonds but froze when light fingers stroked my cheek.

‘Shh. Relax, my pretty princess. You will enjoy this!’ The voice belonged to a woman and was soft and husky, almost throaty.

I felt her face close to mine and I whispered, ‘Please…don’t hurt…me…’

‘I won’t hurt you. How could I?’ she said softly, fingers stroking my hair. ‘Relax.’

I tried to lower my heart rate and I felt a strange comfort that my captor was a woman.

Her fingers stroked my cheeks, hair and then my throat, lingering for a few seconds on my ear lobes.

I twisted my head to try to avoid her touch but she just gently held my chin and resumed her caresses across my face.

Suddenly, I felt her lips against my cheeks, one after the other. Soft, light kisses that contrasted with the tightness of the bonds around my wrists.

I found myself wondering if she had tied me with my own collection of Hermès scarves!

Her lips settled on mine. Vainly, I tried to turn my head to escape her enveloping kiss but could not.

Her lips withdrew and she whispered, ‘You taste like a peach! A soft white peach!’

‘Who are you? What do you…’
Shh,’ she murmured and silenced me with another kiss.

I fell into the kiss, marveling at the feathery softness and the delicate touch, responding to it in a way I knew was crazy but I could not stop myself!

I was weak! I had always been weak!

The Artist

1. The Artist.
Chewing the end of the paintbrush, I stared at the canvas.
It wasn’t right, it wasn’t going the way I saw the finished painting in my mind. It was close but not exactly how I saw it. Maybe the deadline was pushing me in the wrong direction.

Suddenly I had a lot of pressure in my life and I did not like it.

My mobile rang and I answered it without looking, eyes still on the canvas. ‘Yes?’

‘Billie? It’s Lois.’

‘Christ, Lois, I said I wasn’t working tonight!’

‘I know, I know but that bitch Selene called in claiming she’s sick which we both know is total bullshit! She’s probably reconnected with her girlfriend again. You know what they say…’

‘Say about what?’

‘That lesbian relationships break up an average of four times before they survive?’

‘Oh, that old thing,’ I said, tired and bored. Lois and I had this conversation regularly. She was worried as she hadn’t broken up once with her girlfriend and they had been together a whole seven months! In lesbian time (similar to dog years) that was equal to over a year!

‘That’s the one…’

‘That’s garbage…’

‘I’ve been around a long time, Billie, and I have to tell you, it kind of works. Anyway, forget the theories. I’m in a bind, sweetie. Can you come in and do the early shift?’

‘I have plans, Lois…’

‘It’s just the early shift. It won’t be busy. Mel and Cynthia said they’d come in early to take over from you.’

‘There must be others who can work the bar, Lois.’

‘Not as good as you and they try to score with the customers rather than mixing cocktails. You don’t do that! Sweetie,I’ll pay you extra.’

‘How much extra?’ I asked warily.

‘Fifty?’

‘Plus tips?’

‘Deal! We open in an hour.’

‘That early?’

‘There’s two big conventions on so there will be hundreds of delegates roaming the streets tonight. Got to be a few gaygirls in that lot who want a dyke bar! Good tips,’ she added persuasively.

‘I’ll be there,’ I said with a sigh and Lois hung up before I could change my mind.

2. The Cook’s Garden.
Katherine loaded the last of the suitcases into the car and then smiled faintly at Sue, her older sister. ‘Out of your hair at last,’ Katherine said with a wry smile. ‘Graham will be pleased to see the end of me.’

‘Nonsense. He was glad to have you stay with us,’ Sue said, enveloping her sister in a brief hug.

‘We both know that’s not true,’ Katherine said. ‘But thanks for saying it.’

Ever since their parents had been killed in an accident three years earlier, Sue had tried to mother her younger sister.

It had led to some awkward moments between them. Still, she had insisted Katherine stay with her when Katherine’s personal and horrific nightmare began.

In a way, the comfortable and warm embrace of her sister and the security of staying in their large and fortress-like house saved Katherine’s sanity.
Katherine glanced back at the large house nestled in the manicured garden and sighed.

Her sister’s pool house had been a refuge for the last three months while the legal settlements had been hammered out.

Now, suddenly, it was a little scary to be alone again.

‘Are you really going to that house?’ Sue asked, concerned.As usual, Sue was dressed as if she was about to go to a party hosted by her wealthy friends and it was only nine in the morning.

Katherine, on the other hand had her unruly hair tied into a pony tail, no make-up and wore a yellow and blue vintage summer dress she had found in a retro store.

‘It’s my house now,’ Katherine said with a wry shrug. ‘The courts have said so. I have to go out on my own sooner orlater, Sue. It’ll be good to get my furniture and stuff out of storage.’

‘Will you be able to work there?’

‘I can work anywhere I have internet.’ Katherine was a cook who had graduated from the back breaking duties in a restaurant and now supplied recipes for many newspapers and magazines as well as reviewing and testing recipes.
‘Besides I’m thinking of starting a new cookbook.’

‘Oh?’ Sue was clearly surprised as Katherine had not followed up on her successful first cookbook which had been published three years previously.

‘Yes. Thinking about it. Well, I’d better go. There will be a lot of traffic.’

Sue hugged her sister again and said, ‘We’ll come by when you’re settled.
Katherine knew that Sue and Graham never left their wealthy enclave unless it was to travel somewhere exotic. Her sister was being polite and would always have an excuse for not travelling across town to where Katherine would be living.

The new house was in an area that was once very working class, although, lately, it was becoming gentrified with young couples moving in.
In the minds of Sue and Graham, however, it was still a haven for thieves, drug dealers and murderers. So, Katherine knew, they would probably never come to her new house.

As she drove off, waving to her sister, Katherine felt free, wild and frightened. The enormity of her situation often left her breathless and, on some occasions, catatonic. But, at least she wasn’t crying and curled up in her bed anymore,wishing the world would go away.

So much had happened when her sham marriage to Boyd imploded.
Even though she had married Boyd spontaneously, it was still a surprise to find, after three months, that he had been leading a double life.
In fact, his name wasn’t even Boyd! Strangely, she wasn’t hurt that much when his string of sexual affairs were revealed or the fact they weren’t even legally married.

Katherine had already begun to realise the relationship was a terrible mistake and they had nothing in common. She blamed the initial attraction to the romance of the tropical island where they had first met and her incurable loneliness.

Katherine had been lonely forever. However, she discovered that in an unhappy relationship, she was even lonelier.

No, what hurt Katherine the most was to discover her husband was not, as she thought, an up and coming interior designer, but a drug dealer! That, she thought, made Sue and Graham’s views of her neighbourhood supremely ironic.

And what a way to discover it! Police knocking down their front door in the early hours of the morning, Katherine dragged from her bed in her scanty nightdress and treated like a criminal.

The following days were a blur until the police felt sure Katherine wasn’t an accomplice but just a fool!

A pathetic trusting idiot that assumed all people were honest and true!
Boyd, a.k.a. Ronaldo, was now in prison and the house Katherine now had was all she could get in the property settlement as their real house had been illegally sold by Boyd! The police had explained how he did that but her self-defence mechanism had kicked in and she had tuned them out.

Katherine knew she could have pressed for the return of the old house but she didn’t really want to live there again.

How could she look at the repaired front door and not remember the noise and screams of the incoming police?

The weapons, the flashing cameras, the ignominy of lying face down on the carpet, her nightdress riding up and seeing her husband pressed into the floor as the police handcuffed him.

When her lawyer took her to see what remained of Boyd’s frozen assets, Katherine had looked around the old house and decided it was a place to begin again.

‘Needs a lot of work,’ her lawyer had said doubtfully.

‘Didn’t you say I would get cash settlement as well?’

‘Yes. About one hundred thousand. Maybe as high as one sixty.’

‘As well as this house?’

‘If you give up your claim to the old house.’

‘Do it.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. Do it, please.’

‘I have to advise you this house won’t appreciate in value for some time after you’ve done work on it.’

‘I don’t care. I just want somewhere to live,’ Katherine said.

‘Look, I know you’ve had a very traumatic time and you feel like this crap will never end but it will! There are better places to live.’

Katherine hadn’t explained that she felt no one would bother her in that house. She was tired of the steady procession of her sister’s friends looking at her with a combination of sympathy and curiosity. Wife of a drug dealer! Did you know they weren’t even legally married, poor thing?

No, she wanted to be anonymous and live in an area where people wouldn’t know or care and would not even be interested.

‘This will do. I’ll sign the agreement.’

The lawyer had sighed but prepared the documents and now Katherine had the keys.

The front yard was bare and ugly, the house shrugging down behind a low brick wall and nothing but yellowing lawn between the wall and the house. The path to the front door was cracked and uneven.

Naively, she had asked the lawyer why Boyd had a house such as this.

‘He planned to have a lab here,’ the lawyer had answered with a shrug.

‘A lab?’ Katherine had asked, confused.

She remembered the expression on the lawyers face was a combination of pity and sadness.

‘He planned to cook methamphetamine here. You know…’ he said awkwardly. ‘It wasn’t used, though and has been empty for a long time.’

Now, her hands shook just a little when Katherine unlocked the front door.
The house smelled musty and empty.

She wandered through it, feeling she had made a terrible mistake, that she couldn’t live here, that she was the biggest fool in the entire world!
Bursting into tears, she walked through the empty house, her shoes echoing on the hard floors, the pink tiles in the bathrooms larger than life, tears streaming, wondering how she could even manage when the sound of someone knocking on the front door froze her.

Gulping air, Katherine wiped her eyes and steadied herself as the knocking sounded again.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.

An elderly woman with a crocheted maroon beret on long grey and plaited hair smiled at her. Her eyes frowned when she saw Katherine’s red eyes but the smile remained. Katherine instinctively knew the woman could see she had been crying.

‘I’m Louise. From next door,’ she added pointing at the neat blue house to her left. ‘Not that one,’ she said, nodding her head to the untidy house on the other side. ‘He’s a sailor and away a lot which is good ’cause he’s as mad as a two bob watch!’

Taken aback for one moment, Katherine suddenly burst into laughter. Suddenly, she felt alive and even capable.

‘Nice to meet you, Louise. I’m Katherine. Would you like to come in? The furniture hadn’t arrived yet and…’

‘I’ve got the kettle on. Fancy a cup of tea? Come on,’ Louise said without waiting for an answer. ‘You look like you could use a cuppa!’

Katherine followed Louise down the path, into next door, through a cheerful garden and into the house.

Immediately, Katherine was struck by the warmth that declared this was not just a house, this was a home!

‘This is lovely,’ Katherine said, pausing in front of some family pictures.

‘Patrick and my boys,’ Louise said, smiling proudly. ‘Of course, the boys are all men now with families of their own but they’ll always be my boys. Come through to the kitchen.’

The kitchen and meals area had a wonderful view through a wall of glass to the rear garden.

‘This is very nice,’ Katherine said honestly, sitting at the kitchen table. ‘I’d like something like this.’

‘Easily done,’ Louise said making tea. ‘Patrick and the boys did this for me.’
She sat opposite Katherine and they sipped tea. ‘Why did you buy that house, Katherine?’ Louise asked and then grinned cheekily. ‘I’m old and don’t have time to waste so I can be blunt.’

Katherine smiled. She was feeling so much better in the company of the warm woman opposite. ‘I didn’t buy it. It was a settlement. It’s a long story, ’ she said with a sigh.

‘I can listen,’ Louise said simply and Katherine, immediately trusting Louise, found herself telling the strange story that had been her personal nightmare.
The words and emotions spilled from her as she told Louise things she had not verbalised before, had not even told her sister.

Louise listened silently and simply slid a box of tissues to Katherine when Katherine had ran out of steam.

‘That’s a hell of a story,’ Louise said, pouring more tea into their cups from the large teapot. ‘Why did you even think to marry him?’

‘I don’t know,’ Katherine murmured. ‘He was very good looking, a little androgynous like a rock singer or something, charming and I didn’t even consider he was lying to me. I was still a mess from the death of my parents. I knew it was a mistake,’ she said truthfully. ‘Even on the wedding day but I couldn’t bring myself to back out.’ Katherine didn’t explain how the wedding was performed by a con man Boyd knew.

‘Well, look on the bright side.’

‘There’s a bright side?’ Katherine asked bitterly.

‘Of course there is! You have a new start and your low bastard of an ex-husband is probably about to be married to a big black guy in prison!’

Katherine laughed at that and then, with a small smile, said softly, ‘Thanks, Louise.’

The sound of a truck in the small street jerked Katherine back into the present.

‘My furniture!’ she said, almost bolting to the door. Stopping, Katherine murmured, ‘Thanks again, Louise.’

‘Anytime.’

3. Bruised
My flat is on the third floor. That means there are two floors beneath me and four on top.

I don’t know anyone in the building.

Not really, although…
…there is that one girl…

The girl who made an impression because she saw me, noticed me!

The lift is always breaking down and on that particular night I was trudging up the stairs after work, clutching a small bag of groceries.

That was when I first saw her.

She was jumping down the stairs, two at a time, full of energy and spice, smelling exotic and looking…well, different…

Very different!

Skin startlingly pale, spiky black hair and dressed in a very short denim skirt, black leggings, what could only be described as military boots. Under the black leather jacket, she wore a black T-shirt from some pop band I had never heard off.

Pausing when she saw me, she leaned against the rail and looked me up and down as I struggled up the stairs.

Trying to tear my eyes from her elfin face, I stared ahead and hoped she would ignore me.

Even though a small part of me wanted her to see me, to say something, I knew I would be invisible to her. Most people ignored me. I am, I know, faceless and grey.

‘You’re in 3D,’ she said with a hint of an Irish accent.

Surprised, I looked at her, not knowing what to say and saw a strange amusement in her dark eyes.

So I shrugged and hoped that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t.

As I tried to pass her, she held my arm for a moment. ‘I’m Gina,’ she volunteered. ‘In 5B.’

I had to say something so I nervously cleared my throat. ‘Roberta,’ I mumbled, taking another step upwards.

Her hand fell away and she watched me trudge up the stairs.

Pausing on the landing, I listened to her jumping down the stairs and, moments later, the front door bang.

Click to return to Lesbian Romance

 

Click

I could hear the sounds of laughter, conversation and music as I walked up the steps. It was cold, very cold and, in a common moment of simpatico with the bleak weather, I also had cold feet.

London can do that to you.

A vivid searing question blazed through me! What the hell am I doing here?

As I turned to flee back down the steps, the front door opened, a shaft of golden light falling on the steps.

‘Francesca!’
Sighing, I turned to find Naomi silhouetted in the door, waggling a finger at me.
‘I just knew you would chicken out!

‘I was just scraping the muck off my boots…’

‘Crap!’ Naomi said succinctly in her New York twang. ‘You were going to run away! Jesus, Francesca, it’s just a Christmas Party!’

‘You do know Christmas is weeks away?’

‘Don’t be bitchy! You know I like to be first. ’

‘I know. Here, I brought you some flowers.’

‘Flowers? God, don’t tell me you’ve gone all sugar and spice?’

‘Harry suggested it.’

‘She is a doll! I like her. She keeps you in line. Thank you for the flowers. Now, come in. I’m freezing my ass off!’
As Naomi closed the door behind me she said, ‘And you can stop the dramatic sighs, Francesca. You can be social, can’t you?’

‘I know, Naomi. Thanks awfully for inviting me.’

‘I can recognise sarcasm you Brits do so well, Francesca,’ she said with a grin.
Suddenly, Naomi hugged me and murmured into my hair, ‘Thanks for coming. It’s been ages since we’ve seen each other.’

‘I know.’

‘Hang your coat and come in. I’ll introduce you.’

I slipped my overcoat off, hung it in the hall and followed Naomi into the living room.

The house was a renovated Georgian mansion and the living room was quite large. I could see Naomi’s touches everywhere and the room was elegantly warm. For one brief moment, I had a pang for loss of happier times.

Of course, the cheerful fire in the grate helped make the room look welcoming and a group of about nine or ten people looked at us expectantly as we entered.

‘Everyone,’ Naomi called regally and the conversation immediately died. ‘This is my step-daughter, Francesca.’

‘Step-daughter?’ The question was asked incredulously by an overweight woman, who was also American. ‘You have children?’
She looked expectantly at Clive who was leaning against the fireplace.

‘Not mine, I’m afraid,’ Clive said calmly, packing his pipe.

‘Jesus, of course not!’ Naomi said crossly. ‘Francesca is the daughter of my second husband.’

Everyone looked at Clive who was, by all accounts, husband number five, and, knowing what everyone was thinking, he smiled cheerfully.

I knew it looked strange as Naomi was only ten years older than I was and, unfortunately she managed to look much younger than her years.

It had been a curse when my father had first married her. What young woman wants to be cursed with a stepmother that looked like my slightly older sister?

‘Hello everyone,’ I forced myself to say and even added a limp wave.

‘Let’s get you a drink, Francesca. Are you still drinking beer?’
I could see a few eyebrows were raised by that but I saw a young woman in the corner stifle a smile.

She was about my height, dressed in a skirt and jumper and had blonde hair that was shoulder length. Her eyes were such a bright blue, I felt I could see myself in them from across the room.

Our eyes connected and I felt a flash, a blinding jolt that rocked me slightly.
I put it down to not eating but a small voice inside my head called me a liar. Another voice, the severe one that often sounds like my mother told me I wasn’t ready for any romantic entanglements just yet. Maybe never.

‘Ah, No,’ I said loudly. ‘White wine, thanks, Mum!’

‘Don’t be a god damn bitch, Francesca,’ Naomi said evenly. ‘You know I don’t like that!’

The conversation returned to the group and Naomi chased a waiter. Clive kissed my cheek. ‘Sorry…,’ I said, ‘…to crash your party.’

‘Nonsense. Naomi said she had invited you.’

‘Yes, I know but…it’s awkward, isn’t it?’’

‘Bollocks! You’re perfectly welcome, Francesca. Naomi was worried you wouldn’t come.’

‘She threatened to come round and get me if I didn’t, I murmured, looking over his shoulder at the blonde woman in the corner. I could not stop looking at her.

‘She can be like that. Naomi said you were in New York?’

‘For three – No, almost four months.’

‘Home for good now?’

‘I don’t know.’ I could hear Naomi greeting people at the front door.

‘Oh god, there’s some people I have to greet,’ Clive apologised.

‘Do your duty, Clive.’

He vanished and I stood alone for a few moments until Naomi moved to me, handed me a glass of wine and smiled at me.‘You look well. Maybe a little thinner.’

‘You look great,’ I said truthfully.

‘Thanks, but you do look better than I expected.’

‘Gee, thanks a lot!’

‘I like the shorter hair. Accentuates your big dark eyes.’

‘Ah…thanks. You look really good, even younger. We could be sisters.’

‘You know how to brighten my day,’ Naomi said happily. ‘I’d better greet the guests. You’ll be okay?’

‘I’ll be fine.’
I sipped the wine and sidled to the fire where I warmed my bum while nodding to people who smiled listlessly at me.
Just one drink, I told myself, and then I can slip away.

‘Hello.’ The blonde girl nervously smiled at me, clutching her wineglass in her hand. ‘I think you are the only other person my age here.’

I looked around, pretending to inspect the crowd while trying to calm my pounding heart. ‘It verges on geriatric, doesn’t it?’

We smiled at each other.

‘Christy,’ she said.

‘Frankie.’
‘Are you really Naomi’s stepdaughter?’

‘I was. She and my dad are divorced so I don’t know if, technically, I am her stepdaughter anymore.’

‘How old is she?’

‘She’s ten years older than me so that makes her forty two.’

‘Well, she looks good. I’m twenty nine.’

‘Really or are you staying twenty-nine no matter what?’

Christy laughed.‘No, I’m actually twenty nine. Age is nothing, really.’

‘What is your connection to this group?’ I asked. Those eyes are the brightest blue I have ever seen.

‘My boyfriend works with Clive.’

‘Oh?’ Boyfriend? Damn! I looked around the room. ‘Which one is he?’
I don’t know why I was surprised. My gaydar had not sounded loudly but had buzzed slightly. Perhaps she was one of the women who dreamed of experimenting.

‘He’s not here yet. He’s always late.’ Christy glanced around the group. ‘All the chairs are taken,’ she observed.

‘That’s okay. We’ve got the fire,’ I said.

‘There’s a fire in the other room. It’s Clive’s library.’

‘Library?’

‘He collects old books. You didn’t know?’

‘This is the second time I’ve met him. The other time was at the wedding. He seems nice.’

‘He is.’

‘Perhaps he’ll last longer than the other husbands.’

‘That’s what he said,’ Christy grinned. ‘He has a wicked sense of humour. Let’s snag some drinks and sit in front of the fire in the library.’

I couldn’t resist asking, ‘What about your boyfriend?’

Christy shrugged. ‘He’ll find me.’ She set her glass on the mantle and snatched two fresh glasses from a passing waiter with a giggle, and we slipped out of the living room.

Christy seemed to know the way and led me to a large room lined to the ceiling with books. Bookshelves were even around the fireplace. I put my empty glass on a coffee table and Christy gave me a glass of wine. We both sipped from our glasses, looking at each other.

‘You know your way around?’

‘We’ve been to dinner here a few times,’ Christy said. ‘I like Naomi and Clive.’
It was a strange thing to add but I didn’t say anything.

There was a leather Chesterfield in front of the fire so we sat down.
Christy immediately kicked her shoes off but as I had laced quasi-combat boots on, I just left mine on. I was wearing two pairs of socks so my feet were warm.

She sipped her wine and looked me over. ‘I love the leather jacket,’ Christy said. ‘And the jeans. What label?’

‘The jacket is vintage,’ I said. ‘Real vintage from the 1960’s. Picked it up in New York. The jeans are French.’

‘You get around.’

‘I suppose I do.’

‘My last name, by the way, is Sommers. With an “O” not a “U”.’

‘Mine is Deacon but…’

‘But what?’

‘Doesn’t matter. Are you from London?’

‘Yes. You?’
‘Originally, but moved around a lot.’

‘What were you going to say before?’

‘When?’

‘You were going to say something about your name?’

‘Was I?’ I said innocently.

‘You are a tease!’ Christy laughed, lightly slapping my hand.
Her hand was warm and I resisted the urge to hold it, to feel it inside my curled fist.

‘Tell me about yourself,’ I said, feeling warm from the drinks and the fire.

‘Only if you tell me about you.’

‘Okay. You go first.’

‘Will you really tell me about yourself? Are you a woman of your word?’ Christy teased.

‘I try to be,’ I said honestly.

‘So, you do lie?’

‘Sometimes.’

‘But not now?’

‘No, not now.’

We sat in silence for a moment until Christy began, ‘I’m a textile designer and…’

‘Brilliant!’

She looked at me quizzically. ‘You’re impressed by that?’

‘Of course. That’s amazing.’
‘So, you know something about textiles?’

‘A little. I know a few fashion designers and they talk of nothing but the fabrics they are searching for.’

‘You do? God, you are a tease, aren’t you? Who do you know?’

‘I thought we were talking about you?’ I laughed.

‘I’m going to interrogate you later!’ Christy warned with a waggling finger.
I just smiled while I tried to avoid staring at her bright blue eyes and the reflection of the dancing fire in her hair.

‘Anyway, I design for a small fabric house but I hope to start my own soon.’

‘Then you’d have to move to New York or Milan. ’

‘I know. I’ve never been to New York. You went there?’

‘I’ve just come back. I lived there for four months and am toying with the idea of staying there.’

‘What’s it like?’

‘Can be lonely and it takes a while to find friends but it’s like any other big city.’

‘Did you run away from a bad love affair?’

I blinked at that and tried a smile. ‘I thought we were talking…’

‘Don’t avoid the question, Frankie,’ Christy said quietly, hand on mine.

‘Yes, I ran away,’ I said at last. ‘It was complicated.’

She nodded and offered a small smile. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be. Love ends.’

‘Does it?’
‘Seems to. With me, anyway.’
We sipped wine and watched the flames.‘I’m leaving my boyfriend,’ Christy said suddenly.

I turned to look at her and the colour of her remarkable hair in the firelight.
‘Does he know?’

‘Yes. I’ve moved out. Back with my mother, which, by the way, is awful,’ Christy said with a nervous grimace. ‘This party is our last social event as a couple. I wanted to say goodbye to Clive and Naomi but I don’t think I will now.’

‘Oh?’

‘What’s the point?’

I shrugged. ‘None, I suppose.’

‘I don’t even think Trent will turn up,’ Christy said savagely. ‘He’s afraid I’ll do something wild!’

I smiled softly, glancing at her. ‘It’s good to do something wild every now and again.’

‘Is it? Do you do wild things?’

‘All the time.’

Christy looked into my eyes and smiled. ‘I believe you do. I’m glad I came to the party,’ she said after a moment.

‘So am I. I wasn’t going to come but Naomi can be forceful…’

‘Yes…,’ Christy laughed, ‘…she can. Now, tell me about you! Do you have a boyfriend?’

‘Ah…no and not likely to, I’m afraid,’ I said lightly.

‘I know we all feel like that when we’re recovering from a bad relationship, Frankie…,’ Christy said softly, hand resting on mine, ‘…but you’ll find someone…’

‘Christy…’

‘You will, Frankie, just wait and see…’

‘Christy!’

‘What?’

‘No boyfriend,’ I said as lightly as I could. ‘I’m gay.’ I waited for her to remove her hand but, to give her credit, she didn’t.

‘Oh. Sorry.’

‘What for?’

‘Being an idiot,’ Christy said with a lopsided grin.

I laughed and felt good about the fact she hadn’t removed her hand. ‘I like idiots.’

She smiled at me and for an insane moment, I almost kissed her.
I didn’t but I knew I would regret not tasting those plump pouting lips for the rest of my life!

‘You gay girls should wear something so idiots like me can tell.’

You gay girls! So, no possibility.

I extended my feet and waggled them.‘The boots might give it away,’ I laughed. ‘Maybe the hair?’

‘No. On you the boots and the pixie hair both look sexy. Especially with the bomber jacket.’ She suddenly flushed but recovered quickly. ‘So, Frankie, mystery gay woman…,’ Christy teased, ‘…what do you do?’

‘Me?’

‘You promised!’

‘Okay,’ I laughed. ‘I’m a photographer.’

‘What sort?’

‘Fashion, celebrity, stuff like that…’

Her eyes grew wide. ‘No,’ she breathed.

‘Don’t I look like a photographer?’ I teased.

‘Your name is Francesca but people call you Frankie…’

‘Well, yes, but…’

‘Are you Frankie DeeVine?’

‘Ah…well, that’s the name I work under…’

‘God, I had no idea!’

Puzzled, I asked, ‘You’ve seen my work?’

‘Seen it? Of course! One of your pictures is my all time favourite photograph!’

‘Oh.’ God, I thought, she’s a fan! The last thing I wanted was to be involved with a fan! Maybe I should leave now!

‘Seriously, you’re famous!’ Christy said, jabbing an accusatory finger at my left breast.

‘No, I’m not really. I’ve taken a few photographs of models and other people but…’

‘No…,’ she said firmly, ‘…you’re famous!’

Famous for taking pictures of Margot! ‘So…,’ I said with a small sigh, ‘…what is your favourite picture?’

‘That’s easy,’ Christy said with a smile. ‘The one of the Tweed coat from Akiro…’

‘The coat? You like that photograph?’

‘It’s brilliant! The texture of the cloth is so real and you capture the light so well. I love it!’

Click to return to Lesbian Romance

 

Dominique

Each day was the same as the last.

Hot and humid.

Slow boredom caused by mind numbing routine.

Always the same.

She sat under the grove of palm trees at the end of the compound, back against the wire, resting against the barrier to freedom.

As usual, she was alone.

The other women, in small groups sat under another grove of palm trees towards her right. They avoided her, as both knew they had nothing in common. The other women were a mixture of Vietnamese, Thais, Chinese, Malays, Burmese and other nationalities. There were even one or two Indians mixed into the national groups.

The solitary woman sitting alone was European, although with a dark complexion and angular frame. Her dark hair, thick and tousled, was cropped to the back of her neck.

As she was the only European, she sat alone and preferred it that way. So did the Asians. The only thing they had in common was the one small fact that they were all prisoners in a hot, humid hell in a prison that the government of the country did not acknowledge existed.

The guards watched the prisoners from the administration building and the two small towers beside the main wooden gates. Every now and again, some of the women teased them with a little flesh.

Sometimes it became more than a tease and goods were exchanged for a furtive groping in the dark after lights out.

The wire gate separating the compound from the administration block opened and all the prisoners in the compound looked up with interest. A buzz of conversation came from the different groups when it became clear a new prisoner was entering the main prison.

A new prisoner was a rare occurrence and guards and prisoners alike welcomed the small break in the slow routine.

Every new prisoner spent a week in solitary in an effort to break them, to make them more pliable before being allowed to mingle with the other prisoners.
Some new prisoners crawled into the compound, their eyes wide and staring as if they could not believe the nightmare they had been thrust into. Others walked slowly, measuring everything and those prisoners were the interesting ones.

Even, perhaps, the ones to be afraid of.

The European woman exhaled cigarette smoke when the prisoner stepped through the gate. Even the Asians stopped chattering.

The new prisoner was also European but was strikingly blonde. Before entering the prison, the new prisoner would have been a very beautiful woman.

Now, she was merely attractive. Her features worn down by fatigue, fear and acceptance. A week in the small box they called the obituary would do that.

She was wearing denim shorts and a pale blue T-shirt. It was obvious she was braless and the dark haired European woman wondered what the other woman would taste like, what her throat would feel against her own lips.

She shook her head once as if trying to clear it of thoughts like that. Still, it had been so long since she had a lover!

She shook her head again and flicked her cigarette butt through the wire.

At least the cigarette butts could escape!

She did notice that the blonde prisoner’s hair was still long which was either a sign of vanity or simply an indication that she was trying to hang onto her past, her normal life.

The guards pushed the new prisoner through the wire gate and faint dust rose from around her sandals. Soon, the rainy season would arrive and dust and dryness would only be a memory.

The blonde woman slowly looked around the compound, noticing the dark haired European sitting by herself and the groups of Asian prisoners.

Hanh, the leader of the Vietnamese women under the palm trees, called to her, waved to the new prisoner in entice her to join them.

The new prisoner hesitated; something told her hold back, to absorb the situation. Her time in solitary had taught her to be wary of everything.

Hanh made kissing motions with her mouth and the others giggled but they all watched to see how the new prisoner reacted.

Once again, the blonde woman hesitated and the dark European woman thought the new prisoner at least exhibited some common sense and didn’t rush over to the first seemingly friendly face.

The other prisoners watched the blonde woman, some looking over at the solitary dark European woman, guessing the new prisoner was making a choice.

The new prisoner looked over to the dark woman and took a tentative step in her direction.

Immediately, the other prisoners began calling to her, in various languages, telling her to be smart, be sane and join them.

Do not go to the French woman!

Ignoring the other prisoners, the blonde woman walked towards the dark haired European woman and hesitantly looked down at her.

‘Do…do you speak English?’

It was plain, she was American and the dark haired woman thought she detected a southern accent but could not be sure.

‘Some,’ the dark haired woman said.

‘Have I made the right choice?’ she said with a hint of bitterness.

‘Oui.’

With a sigh, she sat down next to the other woman, her back also against the wire. ‘You’re French?’

The other woman nodded.

‘American,’ the blonde said as a tentative introduction.

The dark haired woman nodded again and offered a cigarette.
She looked at it and then smiled wryly. ‘What do I have to do for a cigarette?’

The other woman chuckled and shrugged.‘Do what you wish. It is an offer, a sign of congratulations on surviving solitary.’

‘Okay.’

She took the cigarette and when the other prisoners saw that, they turned back into their huddle, talking quietly.

‘Laney,’ she introduced herself as the other woman lit her cigarette.

‘Dominique,’ the French woman offered. No second names were needed or wanted.

‘Lovely name. Does it mean anything?’

‘It means belonging to God which is, but of course, a sad joke!’

Laney smiled and offered her hand. Guessing she wanted to shake hands, Dominique took her hand and gently shook it.

‘Why did they want me to join them?’

‘You have blonde hair,’ Dominique said. ‘You would fetch much when sold to the guards. The guards all dream of western women.’

‘Do they dream of you?’

‘Yes, even me because I am tall. Although, of course, I am dark so I am not as glamorous as you.’

Laney smiled, quietly inspecting the other woman who, she suspected would look stylish and elegant dressed in designer clothes.

She flicked her hair back and glanced at Dominique’s short hair. ‘Did you always have short hair?’

‘Non. I cut it off here. It is easier.’

‘Maybe I should.’

Dominique said nothing and wondered if Laney had the courage to cut her hair off. It would mean accepting she was here and not living on the edge of hope.

‘Where do we sleep?’

‘In a dormitory.’

‘Beds?’
The idea of actually having a bed was laughable so Dominique laughed and Laney smiled wryly.

Dominique watched a brightly coloured bird with fiery plumage perch on the razor wire and wondered when Laney would talk about her embassy, when she would say she would be out soon, that it was all a mistake.

Instead, she turned to look at Hanh and the others who were silently watching the two European women.

‘What is that all about?’

‘You are fresh meat.’

Laney turned and frowned at Dominique.‘Fresh meat?’

‘The nights are long,’ Dominique said woodenly. ‘And even the female prisoners have dreams of a western woman.’

‘Oh. They’re all lesbians?’

Dominique laughed at that. ‘There are many part time lesbians in here.’

Laney turned and looked at the French woman, her blue eyes big and round.
‘And you, Dominique?’

‘I am a full time lesbian,’ Dominique said quietly, big dark eyes watching the bird. ‘I was so before I came here.’

‘Oh, I see.’ Laney turned back to look at the other prisoners and then asked softly, ‘Do you want me as well?’

‘I do not make love in prison,’ Dominique said. ‘I will wait.’

‘Wait for what?’

‘Until I am free again. Then, I will enjoy champagne, fresh free air and a woman who loves me. That is all.’

‘Do you have a woman waiting for you?’

‘Non. Not anymore.’ Dominique turned to look at her, watching Laney as she stubbed the cigarette out. ‘You? There is someone waiting?’

‘I had a boyfriend,’ Laney said. ‘He hid the drugs in my bags.’

‘Ah, I see. It is, but of course, a common tale.’

‘I know but women and love, eh?’

‘Yes,’ Dominique agreed. ‘We forgive so much and are blind in so many things.’

‘Boy, I was really blind!’ She stared into the distance. ‘And now I’m here for twenty years!’

Dominique said nothing, waiting for the regrets, the tears perhaps and other sad stories.

Again, Laney surprised Dominique.

She said nothing, just stared into the distance for a while before turning back.

Dominique watched her silently, big dark eyes expressionless and unfathomable.

Laney realised that once, Dominique would have been extraordinary beautiful but it was not a fragile beauty. The splendour came from strength and determination.

There was a slender white mark of a scar on Dominique’s right shoulder, intersected by the dark strap of her singlet top and, on her right wrist, a dragon tattoo.

Laney pointed to the tattoo. ‘What is that?’

‘A dragon.’

‘I can see it’s a dragon, Dom!’ Laney laughed, shortening the others name. ‘Why do you have it?’

‘I was in street gangs in Marseille. It is a sign.’

‘Of what?’

‘Of belonging.’
‘Ah, I see. How long are you here for?’

‘Thirty five years.’

Jesus! What for?’

‘They say I killed a man.’

‘Did you?’ Laney asked studying her.
Dominique smiled softly. ‘But of course. He deserved it.’

Laney just nodded and then smiled warmly at Dominique.
‘You know, Dom…,’ Laney said in that lazy drawl, ‘…I think I made the right choice!’

Dominique smiled briefly and nodded.

Click to return to Lesbian Romance

Dancing Barefoot

I’m dancing barefoot
heading for a spin
some strange music draws me in
makes me come on like some heroin/e

(Dancing Barefoot – Patti Smith/Ivan Kraal)

 

Prologue – 1967: A Whiter Shade of Pale
She said, “There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see.”
But I wandered through my playing cards
And they would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open wide
They might have just as well been closed

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

(A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum, written by Broker,Fisher and Reid)

Of course it was raining.

In all good films (and bad films as well) it was rare that a funeral scene was on a bright sunny day.

Perhaps, she thought as she got out of the car, it was somehow determined to have funerals on days where rain was predicted!

Freddy held an umbrella over their heads as they walked down the path. The thought popped into her head that if a cremation had been the order of the day, the ceremony would have been indoors and out of the drizzling rain!

But she wouldn’t have wanted that, she would have wanted the grandeur and theatre of a funeral with all the black and grey trimmings! And of course here at Thornton.

There were, of course, many people attending the funeral. A sea of black dresses, suits, hats and veils with many black umbrellas. Nobody took a colourful Mary Quant umbrella to a funeral; it just wasn’t done!

Mourners murmured condolences as the gravel crunched under their feet. All around them were the gravestones and monuments of the rich. Angels and crosses, grey in the drizzle and looking terribly sad in the small graveyard.

The vicar, holding a large umbrella over his head, nodded and she noticed one of the fingers on his leather glove gripping the umbrella handle had popped a seam, revealing a pink finger inside the black leather.

‘She is at rest at last,’ he murmured piously, gesturing at the grey sky overhead as if he expected her to peer down from behind a cloud. It was ridiculous and for one terrible moment, she wanted to slap him. Hard!

Of course, she didn’t. People would be horrified even though it would have made her feel rather good on a miserable day!

She looked behind the vicar and saw the gravediggers standing with their shovels. No umbrellas for them. They stood in their long coats and caps, watching everyone with blank expressions.

Another day, another grave to fill!

The vicar stepped back and she saw the grave for the first time. Long, deep and dark with a row of white chairs on one side.

For one moment, she believed she could not go through with this especially as she saw the cherry red coffin near the grave with large ropes coiled near it.

‘I feel sick,’ she murmured, not knowing why she should feel that way, not after everything that had happened.

‘Think of nice things, think of our home, of our life!’

But she couldn’t.

All she could think of was the past.

1956: The Wayward Wind
The wayward wind is a restless wind
A restless wind that yearns to wander
And he was born the next of kin
The next of kin to the wayward wind

(The Wayward Wind by Gogi Grant (1956) – written by Stan Lebowsky and Herb Newman)

.i.
My first months at university were quite dark and horrible, cold and lonely. Simply awful.

Coming from the Liverpool slums, I didn’t know anyone and was quite shy. And then there were the accents! I couldn’t understand many of the lectures and the other students so I listened and quickly practised to eliminate all traces of my provincial accent.

There were moments when I even felt inferior. It wasn’t easy coming from the slums of Liverpool to the academic cloisters of university but my aunt’s fierce voice echoed in my ears!

You are better than them, my girl! You remember that!

Of course, I did not give anyone any sign of my nervousness or how I felt. As my aunt would have pointed out, I came from stronger stock than that!
I maintained a cool and stand-offish air that probably discouraged anyone from attempting to be friendly.

There were not many women enrolled at the university so my chances of making friends were poor, anyway. They all spoke as if they had a mouthful of marbles and rattled on about parties and best friends! The blokes were, in the main, upper class pratts and they seemed intent on playing sport and getting as drunk as they could, as often as they could.

My scholarship did not include rooms at a college so I lived in a room in a boarding house for women, away from the University itself. It was a dour existence but I swore I would not disappoint the folk from my street that had helped me win a scholarship. Consequently, I worked hard, studying all the time and attending every lecture.

Most of my tutors were condescending and patronising but I ignored their attitudes and comments so I could focus on getting through the course as well as I could.

I had plans to be a doctor so study took up all of my time. Every day I would ride my bicycle back to the boarding house, and lock myself in my room to study.

That was until I met Charlotte. Charlie to her friends, Lady Foxworth to everyone else.

I saw her, of course, saw her often as she sailed through the common areas with an entourage of women following.

She was always dressed in a tweed skirt, pale pink cardigan and jumper with a string of pearls. It was a little eccentric but the aristocracy could be as eccentric as they liked. In fact, it was almost expected.

Once, she glanced at me and, immediately, I blushed and looked down at the enormous textbook I was trying to make sense of.

From then on, I seemed to sense she looked for me when she sailed through the commons or the library. At least, it felt like it.

I saw her standing alone sometimes, near the quadrangle, smoking and staring into space as if she was considering a difficult problem.

Of course, I didn’t speak to her. What would a girl from the slums of the north have to say to an aristocrat?

.ii.
‘What are your plans, Miss Owen?’

‘I plan to graduate, sir,’ I said as calmly as I could.

Wilkinson was my course advisor and, in my mind, a complete idiot. Rotund, pompous and bald, he smelled of pipe and Port. ‘And you are doing good work,’ he said with a raised eyebrow as if he was surprised. ‘Quite good but it’s all a sorry waste, isn’t it?’

‘Waste, sir?’

‘Medicine is quite a challenge for a man, Miss Owen, therefore it is an almost insurmountable one for the feminine mind.’

Oh lord, I silently groaned, here we go!

‘I’m sure I will manage, sir,’ I said through gritted teeth.

‘Perhaps you will,’ he said mildly.

‘In fact, sir…,’ I said pointed out, ‘…I have been managing rather well.’

‘Quite but it will still be an awful waste,’ he repeated.

‘Waste?’ I asked, puzzled. ‘I’m afraid, sir, I do not understand.’

‘You are not unattractive, Miss Owen so one assumes you will marry soon,’ Wilkinson said peering at me over his glasses. ‘That means children and you will have to abandon your studies or, if by a miracle you graduate, abandon medicine. It’s such a waste,’ he sighed. ‘In your place, the university could have had a male student who would have contributed much more to society than you will, if we discount the children you will bear. Perhaps one of your sons will approach medicine with proper zeal?’

I kept my lips sealed. It was an effort but I told myself to keep my temper in check.

Therefore, I said nothing and somehow managed to keep my face expressionless. This rubbish of course was not new to me. Sadly, I had heard it many times before.

‘What on earth are you going to do with all this knowledge when you are Mother and Wife, Miss Owen?’

Before I could answer, a woman’s voice said, ‘She’ll be able to do a lot more with her life than you have, Wilkinson!’

Wilkinson’s eyes narrowed as his head spun around but he suddenly pasted a false smile on his face. ‘Lady Foxworth. I was not aware you were considering medicine.’

‘I would think, Wilkinson, you are not aware of many things.’

‘I have never claimed to know all, Lady Foxworth,’ Wilkinson snapped.

I gathered my books and said quickly, ‘Is that all, sir?’

‘Yes, yes,’ he said, irritably waving me away.

I walked away and was pushing through the crowds when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I turned and looked directly into the bright blue eyes of Charlotte Foxworth.

‘Hello,’ she said with a broad smile. ‘I don’t know how you can stand that old blighter!’

‘I can’t…,’ I said, ‘…but I don’t have a choice!’

‘No…,’ she said, lighting a cigarette, ‘…I suppose you don’t. Ciggy?’

‘No thank you. You were very brave,’ I heard myself say.

‘Brave?’ She laughed a little bitterly. ‘No, not really. They’re all afraid, of course.’

‘Of you?’ I asked with wonder.

Me? Don’t be silly, my gorgeous young thing! No, of my mother!’ she said as if it were obvious.’

‘Your mother?’

‘Oh yes. Everyone is afraid of her.’ She smiled at me again and introduced herself. ‘I’m Charlie Foxworth and you are Bridey Owen!’

I was shocked and somewhat flattered that Lady Charlotte Foxworth knew my name. Of course, I knew hers. Who didn’t?

‘Well, yes…,’ I said, trying to keep my accent neutral, ‘…I am.’

‘Let’s pop into my rooms. I’ve smuggled a half decent bottle of Sherry in. We’ll have a drink.’

She looked at me, almost as if she expected me to say no and I wondered if I should.

My aunt had always said that we should keep our distance from our betters.
‘You can’t trust any of them, lass,’ my aunt Cathy had said, her Irish accent still rich in her voice, despite living in Liverpool for many years.

Charlotte Foxworth interested me. I had never met a member of the aristocracy before so I found myself murmuring, ‘Well…all right.’

‘Splendid!’ Charlotte linked arms with mine and, puffing on her cigarette, led me across the quadrangle towards St. Pat’s, which was what we called Saint Patrick’s  College for Women.

Her rooms were large with an elderly female servant who asked if we wanted tea.

‘No, Mrs Woods, no tea for us,’ Charlotte said gaily.

‘Very good, milady,’ Mrs Woods said, glancing at me before withdrawing.

‘And what sort of name is Bridey?’ Charlotte asked, stabbing the cigarette out into a large glass ashtray.

The ashtray was clearly very expensive as were the furnishing and furniture.  They made my small room at the boarding house look like the hovel it was!

‘It’s Irish. Gaelic for Bridget,’ I answered as I had always done but, this time, I added, ‘It means exalted one.’

‘Does it really? How splendid! Far more satisfying than poor Charlotte!’

‘Charlotte is a very nice…’ I began politely.

‘No, it’s rubbish!’ Charlie said calmly. ‘Anyway, I prefer Charlie!’
She poured Sherry into two small glasses and offered one to me before she slumped into the thick armchair opposite me. ‘You don’t sound Irish,’ she said.

‘That’s because…,’ I said honestly, ‘…I’m trying so very hard to be proper!’
I found myself wondering why I was so honest with the young aristocrat.

Charlie tossed her head back and laughed loudly. ‘Proper! That’s one thing I’m not! I like you, Bridey Owen! We are going to be splendid friends!’

I smiled and sipped the sherry. It was nice of her to say so but I doubted that Lady Charlie Foxworth and I would ever be friends. ‘Thank you for the sherry.’

‘Oh don’t be so stiff and formal with me, Bridey. It becomes so weary!’

‘You are a titled Lady…’

‘Actually, technically I’m not. Not yet, anyway. My mother is Lady Foxworth. My elder brother will inherit the title and become Lord Foxworth and if he finds a woman silly enough to marry him, she will become the new Lady Foxworth. I will simply be Charlie!’

‘All right,’ I said, perhaps a little bold because of the sherry. ‘I will call you Charlie, then.’

‘Thank you, Bridey,’ Charlie said solemnly and raised her glass. ‘Good health until we die the glorious death.’

It was a strange toast, almost Irish, but I sipped my sherry. I looked around the room and asked, ‘What are you studying?’

‘History. It’s a bore,’ she said dismissively. ‘Mother doesn’t even want me here and is waiting for me to grow tired of it.’

‘Will you?’

‘What?’

‘Become tired of this?’

Charlie shrugged. ‘Who knows? I become so bored so very quickly, I’m afraid. And you are studying medicine? My goodness, isn’t that frightfully intense?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I suppose it is.’

Charlotte Foxworth was not what anyone would call beautiful but she had a regal air to her which, combined with her attractive features and bright eyes, presented her as somewhat enchanting.

She seemed so alive! More alive than anyone I had ever met before. Compared to her, everyone else appeared grey and bland!

When I look back on that first afternoon in her rooms, I see it reflected in a strange golden glow. Perhaps sepia tone, given the times, but I still remember it fondly.

Click to return to Lesbian Romance

The Wedding

As they turned and stepped, I watched the thin women carefully. The girl at the end of the line was one beat behind the music while the girl at the other end of the formation was, perversely, a beat ahead of the music. It was a simple routine and yet they all appeared incapable of moving in time!

Telling myself to relax, that they were not dancers, I waved at the man controlling the playback.

‘Please, stop the music!’ The music track stopped immediately and the area was silent.

I heard a mobile ring behind me but I ignored its strident tone. ‘You are behind the beat,’ I said in French to the slow woman. ‘You will need to move faster.’
She nodded and practised turning again.

‘You are too fast,’ I said to the woman at the other end but, this time, in Italian as she was from Milano.

‘Nathalie!’
I turned to Laetitia, my assistant, who had her hand over the mobile to block our conversation. ‘It is your half-sister,’ Laetitia said in French.

‘Which one? Anglais or Américain?’ I asked and, not waiting for the answer, turned back to the line of women who were waiting expectantly for me to say something. ‘You are all very good…’ I lied, ‘…but we need to work a little more.’
I spoke in French as most of the girls could make do in French. The audience, thankfully, would be focused on the clothes and anything out of the ordinary the models did was a bonus.  
‘Practice those steps and tomorrow we will have the full rehearsal, yes?’

I applauded them graciously; they all smiled and rushed away, already checking their mobiles while others were lighting cigarettes, expressions of relief on their thin faces  as if they had just worked a eight hour shift in an automobile plant! Thankfully, we had another four weeks.

Laetitia moved to me and whispered, ‘It is the English sister, I think.’

‘Rosemary?’

‘She did not give her name. Do I ask her?’

‘Non. Give me the phone.’ I walked to the side of the runway and said, ‘Hello?’

‘There is an “H” in hello, you know,’ the cool, very English voice on the mobile said.

‘Every time I speak with you, it is like being in school.’ I said, switching to English.

‘Sorry. Who was that who answered your phone?’ Rosemary asked in her rich upper class tones.

‘Laetitia, my assistant,’ I said.

‘Really?’

‘Yes. She has just resigned,’ I sighed.

Rose ignored that and asked, ‘She sounded different from when I last spoke to your assistant.’

‘You do not call often. You probably spoke to Simone. She moved to New York with her lover a year ago.’

‘Probably. Do you lose assistants regularly?’

‘Can we speak of other things? Why did you call?’

Rosemary and I were always polite to each other but nothing deeper than that. She was four years older than I was and the product of my mother’s first marriage. I was the child of my mother’s second marriage and by the time I came along, Rosemary was in boarding school in England or living with her aunt.

My other half-sister was Holly, six years younger than I was and the result of my mother’s fourth marriage as her third marriage wasn’t long enough for my mother to fall pregnant.  Perhaps that was the reason she moved on so quickly.
Holly was now a brash American teenage brat who, unlike Rosemary and myself, had never seen the inside of a boarding school.

Mother did not fall pregnant during her fifth marriage which ended two years ago. That marriage, however, brought the step-children into our large and completely dysfunctional family.

‘Nathalie, I have heard you have not replied to the invitation.’

‘What invitation? I said innocently.

‘You know very well,’ Rosemary said icily. ‘The wedding! Mother’s wedding!’

‘God, is she really going through it again?’

‘You know she is! Why haven’t you replied?’

‘I thought the relationship would fail before the wedding…’

‘You are an evil person, Nathalie! How could you think that?’

;‘Don’t be so dramatic,’ I laughed. ‘I thought you English were always calm and collected…’

‘You forget our mother is French.’

‘Suisse, actually,’ I corrected.

‘I know,…’ Rosemary sniffed, ‘…but French sounds better than Swiss.’

‘Does it?’ Even though Rosemary and I shared the same mother, there was the gulf of nations between us.

‘It does on this side of the English Channel. Will you reply? Our mother is annoyed.’

When Rosemary said “Our Mother” it had vaguely religious tones. ‘Have you met him?’

It was Rosemary’s turn to be innocent. ‘Who?’

‘The new husband! The new stepfather!’

‘Yes, I’ve met him. She brought him to London to meet me.’

‘It seems you are the chosen one, Rosemary,’ I laughed. ‘Lucky you!’

‘Only because you made that silly announcement in that interview,’ Rosemary muttered. ‘Mother hasn’t forgiven you…’

‘Forgiven me?’ I said incredulously. ‘For being gay?’

‘Of course not!’ Rosemary said crossly. ‘Even our mother realises that some people in the world are gay.’

‘But not her daughter, yes?’

‘Honestly, Nathalie, I don’t think she cares. She didn’t like the world, as our mother said, to know before she did! You should have told her first.  As for you being gay, she told me it explains a lot of your past behaviour.’

‘Oh, I see. You discussed me with her?’

‘She brought it up,’ Rosemary said uncomfortably.

‘Was the new stepfather there?’

‘Yes, he was and his name is Stephen.’

‘He’s English?’

American. You knew that!’ she accused.

‘No, I really did not! She still has a thing for marrying English, eh?’

‘I don’t think Americans consider themselves to be English. I know we Brits don’t! Besides, your father is French!’

‘But the rest are English speaking. None can speak French.’

‘True. Some can barely speak English.  Speaking of your father, have you spoken to Antoine recently?’

My father was a society portrait painter who also lived in France but he resided in Toulouse while I lived in St. Germain, Paris. Rosemary’s father, my mother’s first husband, had left for Australia after the divorce. I met him years later when he visited Rose and even travelled with Rose when she spent holidays in Australia with Graham, her father. Those were some of the happiest times of my life and I still have a special connection with Graham.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘And was he supportive of your…ah…life choice?’

‘But of course.’

‘I knew he would be,’ Rosemary said.

‘He always knew my preferences.’

‘He’s a cool bloke,’ she said with an envious sigh.

‘Yes, he is but, maybe, a little too cool. When I was sixteen, he tried to seduce a friend of mine from dance school.’

‘That sounds like Antoine. He’s a very sexy man.’

‘I suppose you could say that…,’ I said doubtfully, ‘…he is just not a very good father.’

‘Let’s face it, none of them were. Anyway, enough chit-chat. Are you coming to the wedding?’

‘The invitation was for one.’

‘So?’

‘I can’t bring a date.’

‘No one can, not even Holly which, I believe, caused a mammoth tantrum from our sister. There isn’t enough room at the house. And do you have someone you could ask, like on a date?’

‘No, not really.’

‘You thought the invitation was for one so you wouldn’t arrive with a woman?’ Rosemary laughed. ‘Our mother is not that clever. She wants room for all the important people she’s inviting.’

‘Can you take your husband?’

‘Sean doesn’t want to go,’ Rosemary said stiffly.

‘Oh.’

‘No.’

‘Is anything wrong?’

‘Nothing,’ Rosemary said flatly. ‘He’s just terribly busy. Do come, Nathalie. I need to have someone to talk to at this ghastly affair.’

Rosemary wanted to talk to me? Now I knew there was something definitely wrong.

‘It’s months away.’

‘Six weeks. It’s in America in August. It will be hot. Sounds like fun to me.’

‘Where in America?’

‘California. Malibu, I think.’

I swore in French and Rosemary laughed. ‘Don’t let your snobbishness show, Nathalie! You have to come. Did you know our mother is inviting all her ex-husbands.’

‘She wouldn’t! Father did not say anything about that…’

‘She is and the step-sisters!’

‘You paint such a wonderful picture,’ I said sarcastically, ‘How could I not want to attend such a disaster! And is the step-brother coming?’

‘No. He’s detained.’

‘Still in rehab?’

‘Apparently he will be for months but we should never mention the “R” word. Bloody hell, just RSVP, Nathalie and if you don’t come, I will never talk to you again.’

‘We talk once a year. That is not such a large threat, Rosemary.’

‘You should say big threat instead of large.’

‘Thank you for correcting my English yet again,’ I said sarcastically.

‘Just trying to help. If you don’t say you’re coming, I will ring Holly and suggest she spend the summer with you in Paris!’

‘You would not do that to me!’

‘You know I would,’ Rosemary said with a chuckle. ‘I’m heartless!’

‘Mother would not allow Holly to spend time with a lesbian!’ I said viciously.

‘She doesn’t care about that! She’s annoyed you went public, that’s all! She’d pack Holly off to you like a shot!’

‘Oh, all right,’ I said with a sigh. ‘I’ll send the RSVP. I’ll get Laetitia to book flights and a hotel room…’

‘Oh no, you don’t! You have to stay at the house!’

‘House? With all of you? No!’

‘It’s right on the beach. We’re expected. Apparently the house is huge.’

‘I don’t care…’

‘We all have to stay there! We have to play happy families for Stephen’s family.’

I swore again and Rosemary said, ‘Just send the RSVP. Twenty-four hours under the one roof won’t kill us. Promise me you’ll come.’

‘Jesus, Rosemary,’ I whined.

‘You have to, Nathalie, for our mother’s sake. How will it look if her famous daughter does not attend? She’s trying to establish herself in American society.’

‘She’s lived there off and on for years.  Besides, I’m not famous in America,’ I grumbled.

‘Yes, you are. Promise! Now!’

‘I promise,’ I murmured, surrendering.

‘I’ll hold you to that. Send the RSVP. Don’t make me call you again, Nathalie. Take care.’

She hung up and I turned to survey the room. The models had left and Laetitia was talking to the lighting team.

Time to get back to work. The wedding could wait!

 

Click to return to Lesbian Romance