Chuck looks out the window of the little apartment she shared with Olive, watching the raindrops trace worming trails on the pane. She puts her hand on the glass, palm flat, fingers splayed, and can feel the difference on her skin -- colder where the water traced it's lazy path, even when the water itself was on the other side of the pane from her. It wasn't the same as feeling the water run through her fingers, feeling the drops wash across her knuckles, but it was something, anyway.
L. P. Hartley said "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." This is especially true when the past included being dead. Chuck supposes that if she were to decide, here and now, to put on her coat and pick up her purse and walk out the door and never look back, if she abandoned the Chuck-shaped place that Ned had carved in the world for her, that she could possibly eventually forget that she had once been dead, that every day was a gift from someone who loved her enough to kill for her. But Chuck spent every day with Ned, not touching Ned, not kissing Ned, not pressing her body into his and soaking his sweat in through her pores and not folding herself over him and holding him until he trembled underneath, over, inside her. Not doing any of the things that she has wanted to do from the moment he last touched her and smiled down at her and she looked into his eyes and blinked and suddenly was completely, totally in love again.
Chuck's first breath of her new life had been filled with Ned's scent.
Chuck found herself touching things more nowadays, here in the present, in this Chuck-shaped hole that Ned had made for her, a glove of life and love that was just slightly too big for her, so as not to accidentally touch. So she's taken to deliberately touching things. The side of the stove when it's on, almost too hot to take; the edge of the freezer, burning cold; the towels Olive keeps in the bathroom; the flat cool wood of the table; the crinkly crinoline on the edge of Olive's dress; the cold flat hard edge of the granite dough table; the soft gummy dough; the hot silken strands of Olive's hair. For her, it's a constant reminder that before Ned, she couldn't feel anything at all. Without death to constrain her, she's taken to living as much as possible. Without the freedom to touch Ned, she's taken to touching everything else, everyone else.
She still kisses Ned, a thin film of polyethylene between their lips, mouths closed to avoid an accidental tear from teeth, and it's good, but it's not the same. Bussing someone is nice, but eventually the longing for teeth, tongue, breath in a kiss will win out, and Chuck doesn't know if she wants Ned enough to be dead again, and unable to kiss or touch or feel again, ever. But she sometimes worries that it will build up within her until she changes her mind. Will there ever be a moment, she wonders, when I'd rather die than not be kissed?
And, hard on the heels of that thought, another: I wonder what it's like to kiss Olive.
The old Chuck, the foreigner in the foreign country of her past life, her first life, wouldn't ever even have considered the question -- it wouldn't even have come up. But this is the new Chuck, the reborn Chuck, the Chuck who is trying to live every moment as a gift. So she thinks about it for a moment.
A moment turns into a minute. And a thought turns into a daydream. If you're going to be reborn, Chuck thinks, it's worth trying to live a new life. Which means trying new things. Even if they're a little transgressive, a little dangerous, a little outside-the-box. She is pushing on the edges of the Chuck-shaped hole in the world, and she's not entirely sure what she wants the outcome to be when she does it.
Olive comes home later that day and it's Chuck's turn to make dinner, so she's got dinner waiting when Olive arrives: plates out, table set, wine poured, dinner ready to serve. And she sees it in Olive's eyes, how much she wants this dinner to be with Ned, but how happy she is that there is someone in her life to have dinner ready when she gets home. It's not really a roommate-thing to do, more like a boyfriend-thing to do, but Chuck is willing to let it slide, and Olive seems to be willing to do the same. So it's dinner for the two of them, Ned banished to his own place for the night. That's not entirely unusual; Chuck loves Ned, wants Ned, needs Ned in her life; but Ned can't be the only person in her life, so Chuck is making space for others in her life. Like Olive.
Olive is not small, Chuck thinks as they eat. She's petite, yes, but there's a lot of person packed into the package. Olive's personality is huge, Chuck thinks, but she damps it down around Ned, because she's so incredibly in love with him and it would be too obvious if she relaxed too much. So she seems small, but she's really not. For one, there's the cleavage.
Olive's cleavage is something even the past-life-Chuck would have noticed. It's deep and soft and sensual, like a Grand Canyon of flesh, and Olive isn't shy about showing it off, either. Chuck wonders, idly, what it would be like to run her fingers along that cleft, and then catches herself staring and licking her lips. Like Ned sometimes does, when he thinks no one is looking.
Olive seems to notice that Chuck is staring, in fact.
"What, do I have something on my lip? Did I dribble soup again? I swear I'm so clumsy I'm amazed all my dresses don't have stains." Olive brushes her hand across her mouth, then across the top of her dress, trying to dash away whatever imaginary crumb of food might have made it's way onto her clothing.
Chuck shakes her head. "No, sorry, just drifted off there for a second. How was your day?" She stands, and as Olive starts to stand up Chuck reaches out and puts her hand on her shoulder. Olive's shoulder is almost bare, the sleeveless white sun dress she's wearing covering almost none of her beautifully smooth tan flesh. The skin is warm to the touch, or perhaps her hands are just cold, because Chuck feels Olive shiver under her palm, as she pushes Olive back into her chair. Chuck lets her hand rest there for a moment, then smiles at Olive, and takes her hand away to pick up Olive's set of dishes. Chuck doesn't think she imagines the second shiver from Olive as she heads to the kitchen to dump them in the sink.
Olive talks for a while, and Chuck nods along, not really paying attention, just watching Olive's lips, feeling her voice wash over everything. Olive is so musical, even her speaking voice sings. Her shoulders and hips dance even sitting on the couch, though she's got good control of her hands. Chuck imagines that Olive's hands would touch Ned at every opportunity if they weren't under the currently-strict supervision of Olive's denial. She is staring again, Chuck realizes, but this time instead of trying to shake it off, she reaches out and takes one of Olive's hands in hers.
Olive stops in the middle of a word, and stares at Chuck's hand wrapping around hers.
"Chuck, are you OK?" and Olive's voice is low and soft, as if she were suddenly in the library.
Chuck doesn't answer for a moment, simply flexing her fingers, reveling in the feel of skin-on-skin, how incredibly sensual simply holding someone's hand can be. And Olive has amazing hands. Strong from working with the dough, soft from the oil and the lotions, scarred from the small cuts from knives and burns from ovens and hot pans, but still lovely in the complicated geography that is the map of history written on Olive's hand.
"You have really pretty hands, Olive."
"You're so sweet to say so."
"No, really. Your history, your love of- of food is written on your hands. My hands are still boring, I haven't worked with the ovens enough to tell an interesting story with my hands. I haven't really done anything that would make an interesting story, really." Olive's eyes flash for a minute, but Chuck is still staring at her hands, so she misses the look. "But you have a whole book written on your hands. I bet you have interesting stories about other scars you have."
"Well..." Olive isn't really sure where this is going, it's obvious in her voice, but she hesitates for a moment, then plunges ahead. Chuck smiles slowly. Olive wants to talk about something with someone. And Chuck just happens to be here.
Chuck looks up at Olive's face again. "I have a small scar, you know," she says, "just above my kneecap." She pulls up the hem of her skirt, and shifts to bare her left knee. "See? I fell out of a tree, and hit a bunch of stuff on the way down, but that was the only scar." She puts Olive's fingers down on the small ridge just above her knee, and Olive bends over to look a little closer and Chuck bites her lip with the feeling of someone else's fingers on her bare, unprotected skin. But Olive isn't deadly dangerous, of course; only Ned is. But Olive's touch is dangerous in a whole different way...
"I had a bad break once when I fell off my horse during a jump," Olive says, running her finger back and forth across the tiny scar on Chuck's leg. "It ended up as a compound fracture. I still have the scar on my side."
"Can I see?"
Olive purses her lips, then suddenly stands. Chuck thinks that she's gone too far, but Olive holds on to her hand for another moment, then squeezes gently and lets go. "One second, I'll be right back," and dashes into her bedroom. It's less than ten minutes before she emerges again, in her flowing silk pajama set, hair pinned up, face washed of all makeup, but she is still tiny and beautiful and Chuck suddenly wonders what Ned could possibly be thinking, that he ignores Olive so blatantly.
But he doesn't really, Chuck thinks. He just pretends to, to avoid hurting me. Which is silly really. The thought of Ned looking at Olive suddenly sends a tiny frisson down her spine. This is something to think about. Later.
Olive comes back and stands before Chuck and pulls up the shirt of her pajamas, and turns sideways, and Chuck looks at the gorgeous even tan that covers the skin disappearing into the low-slung pajama bottoms, folded over the hip-bone close enough to kiss, and there running under the high ribs is a puckered white scar. Chuck reaches out and runs a single finger over the ridge, which follows the curve of the bottom of Olive's breast almost exactly. Chuck hears Olive draw a sharp breath, but doesn't look up. Instead, Chuck leans in closer, and silently inhales, and she can smell Olive's honeysuckle soap sublimating off of her skin.
Chuck tells Olive to sit, then gets up herself and changes into pajamas. Not silk, but cotton yellow men's pajamas, only one button strategically holding the top closed. She comes back out in a handful of minutes, her hair also pulled back, her face also washed, and Olive has brought the glasses and wine bottle from the dining room table to the living room, and topped off both glasses.
"It's been quite a while since I had a girl to have a girl's night with, y'know?" Olive says this with forced cheerfulness, and for a moment Chuck is worried that Olive doesn't want to be there. But then she realizes that, like Chuck, Olive has managed to build a life which orbits Ned, a life where no one actually orbits her. To become a satellite, which she could shine like a beautiful star, seems shameful to Chuck. We should orbit each other. We should orbit together, not apart.
Chuck slides up her shirt until she is almost flashing Olive, and points to a spot just below her sternum.
"I fell on a pen once and nearly punctured my own heart." There is a small white puckered lump, almost a tiny belly button, there. Unlike Olive, Chuck's skin is milky white all over, so the scar is harder to see, and Chuck leans in as Olive leans closer and Chuck closes her eyes when she feels Olive's breath wash over her ribs, up under her breasts.
"Wow. Hm. Well, I once dropped a hot muffin pan on myself getting it out of the oven. The burn is right here," she says, and Chuck bites her lip again as Olive pulls down the collar of her pajamas, undoes one button, then another, and suddenly the top of her right breast is bare to Chuck and there's a spot the width of a pencil that's a little lighter than the surrounding flesh. Chuck sits down on the couch very close to Olive, who doesn't seem to mind, and leans very, very close for a good look.
Chuck's smile doesn't quite make it to her lips as she decides that anything worth doing is worth doing all the way, so she very carefully exhales on to Olive's skin and watches as the goose pimples appear suddenly on Olive's breast. And she looks up into Olive's eyes, and before Olive can react, Chuck leans in and kisses her lips.
It starts gentle, because Olive is very surprised and confused, and it all shows in her eyes. But Chuck doesn't pull back; in fact, she leans in a bit more, pressing a little more insistently and while Olive isn't exactly kissing back enthusiastically, she also hasn't decided to run screaming from the room. There are two Olives behind her eyes, Chuck thinks. One wants me to be Ned. The other doesn't care who I am, it just wants to be kissed.
So Chuck does what she's afraid to do with Ned, and opens her mouth, and runs her tongue across Olive's lips, which part ever so slightly. Good enough, Chuck things, and leans in even farther, pressing Olive against the arm of the sofa, and her tongue is a little more insistent, tapping against the wall of Olive's teeth, knocking for the gates to open up. And Olive's eyes close as she opens her mouth, and that's invitation enough.
The kiss builds. They shift around their bodies as their tongues meet and taste each other, as they explore the inner space of the amphitheater of the voice, and their breath surges back and forth, hard breaths drawn through the nose and soft exhalations into each other's throats as slowly they lean harder, kiss harder, open more to each other. Chuck breaks away first, and Olive's eyes fly open, fear and sadness and longing all pooling there behind her eyes, and Chuck leans in and takes Olive's bottom lip between her teeth, pulling and nibbling gently. She can't do this with Ned. Neither of them could do this with Ned. But maybe they can do it with each other, instead.
Chuck runs her hands up under the red silk of Olive's sleepwear, and very deliberately cups her hands around Olive's breasts. She can feel them, firm and full and ripe under her hands, the nipples hardening against her palms. She gently squeezes, and feels Olive moan into her mouth, into the kiss, and this time Olive is pressing against Chuck, Olive's tongue forcing her mouth open, their teeth clacking together, their bodies pressing against each other. Chuck stretches her arms apart, and the buttons on Olive's pajama top pop off suddenly and go flying across the room in opposite directions. The sudden popping makes Olive's eyes fly open, and suddenly everything stops for a moment.
"I— I— I—" Olive can't seem to voice whatever fear or desire is stuck in her throat.
"Aye-yi-yi, Olive." Chuck smiles softly, their noses just an inch apart, eyes almost crossed.
"Is this— are you—"
"I'm not substituting, Olive. If that's what you're wondering." Chuck isn't even sure if it's a lie at that moment.
"Are you— have you always been—"
"No. You'd be my first. I'm exploring a different country," Chuck says, and Olive looks confused, but that's OK. Chuck kisses her instead of explaining. Explanations come later. Maybe.
Chuck stands up and pulls Olive off the couch. She's light as a feather, and Chuck nearly lifts her off the floor in her arms. They are kissing again, with no transition, with no restraint. Chuck presses her body to Olive, as if she is trying to commit osmosis on her body. Limbs entangled, hands roaming, they stumble into Chuck's bedroom, fall across the bed, and Chuck yanks the silk top down, trapping Olive's arms behind her, and forcing her shoulders back so her back is arched, her breasts full and ripe and open to ravishing, and Chuck thinks that Olive may be the most beautiful woman she's ever seen, right now, her face flushed with passion and surrender.
Olive struggles, then draws her arms free, and Chuck's button is gone as well, and suddenly there is nothing but skin and air between them, and then not even air. Chuck slides her thigh between Olive's legs, presses against her, feels Olive clench against her. She presses Olive into the bed, pins her down, then slowly starts to work her hands down Olive's body, inch by inch. She presses her hands into Olive's flesh, kneads with her fingers, carefully, like working delicate dough, feeling the hard muscle under the taut skin. She is exploring another country, now Olive Country, and the sheer revel involved in touching without a barrier is making Chuck breathe in short gasps. Olive doesn't know what to do with her hands, so they drift up and down Chuck's arms, across her shoulders, through her hair, and being touched even in these simple ways is more exciting than anything Chuck has ever known in her new life.
She draws her fingers along Olive's ribs, cups her breasts again, runs her knuckles roughly across the erect nipples. She drags her nails down Olive's stomach, leaving small red marks as Olive shudders, then runs her flat palms over the point of Olive's hips, and around, across the soft, tender flesh of the inner thigh, and carefully threads her fingers through the blonde curls of Olive's pubic hair, before cupping her hand across the labia. She holds Olive's sex in her hand, and Olive is already gasping, her lips flush, her wetness already slick on Chuck's fingers. Much better than temperature gradients on a pane of glass.
Chuck carefully slips one finger inside, slick and warm and tight, and her thumb brushes Olive's clit. Olive shudders, then grabs the back of Chuck's head, hand tangled in hair, and drags Chuck into a kiss that feels like Olive is trying to eat her alive. They are so close together, Chuck thinks, so much skin touching, and nothing between them but slick sweat. Chuck strokes with her fingers, brushes her thumb back and forth, and Olive shudders again, then bucks her hips off the bed, thrusting against Chuck's questing fingers, and the muscles clench and release in a rhythm as old as time, as the ocean, one that Chuck knows from the inside out.
Olive hasn't said anything in all this time, just keeps kissing Chuck, and Chuck is happy with the silence, with the gasps and unvoiced moans and hard, hard kisses. Chuck stays still until Olive quiets, then slowly slides her fingers out. Olive's eyes are closed, have been the whole time, while Chuck kept her eyes open the whole time, watching Olive flush with pleasure. Eventually Chuck eases herself down next to Olive, who rolls to face her, and their forheads rest against each other. For a long time, there is silence. And then Chuck realizes that Olive is crying.
"Olive? What's wrong? Did I, was it not good?"
"No, no, it's not that at all. I wanted...I wanted someone to love me, I wanted someone for so, so long. But I didn't know I wanted it to be you. I didn't know it would be you. And I don't know what to do. You and Ned..."
"Olive, look at me." Chuck waits until Olive opens her eyes, looks at her. "Olive, Ned and I, we love each other, that's true. But Ned and I can never have this. We can't be together."
"But, but you go over to his place almost every night."
"We do share a bed sometimes, to sleep, to be close. I do love him. But he and I...can't touch. Can't have this sort of, well, feelings as it were with each other. I can't really explain it. But I can't ever have Ned this way."
"Is that...why? Is that why you did this with me?"
"No. I did this with you because I wanted to be with someone, and I care about you, and it looked like you wanted to be with someone too."
"Is it that obvious?"
"I don't know if Ned knows. But I know. And I'm sorry." Chuck is crying now, too. Poor, poor Olive. Chuck sees now that she and Olive have much in common: neither of them can really touch Ned.
Olive carefully kisses the tears off of Chuck's cheeks.
"I know it's a secret, so I won't ask. But I'm sorry I didn't realize before just how much distance there is between you and Ned. And I'm sorry I was ever angry at you. It's not your fault Ned loves you."
"Oh, Olive. He loves you, too. I just don't think he knows how to be true to both of us."
"I guess we have that in common, too. We both love Ned."
"And each other." Chuck's face is serious, and she kisses Olive softly, to punctuate the message. "I love you, Olive. Before it was of how amazingly good a friend you were to Ned. But you should know that I love you, just for you."
Instead of saying anything, Olive kisses Chuck again.
"Chuck?" Olive seems suddenly shy.
"Is there...do you...were you expecting anything?"
"No, of course not. I wanted to do that. I wanted to watch your face as you came, see your head thrown back, kiss your lips, feel you tight around me. But I'm not expecting anything."
"You're a very odd person sometimes."
"I told you. I'm exploring. But I'll tell you a secret."
"I like this new discovery. I feel like Magellan, far away from everything I once new, the world upside down. But the natives are friendly. And the scenery is beautiful."
And Chuck kisses Olive, and she wonders if she can ever go back to having something between her and the person she loves again.