“You look out the window more now,” Elizabeth said one day.
Olive curled her hands around her coffee cup. She hadn’t noticed she’d acquired any new habits, but Elizabeth’s observations were never wrong—and now that she thought about it, she could remember much more sky lately. An endless succession of days of frosty gray streaked with rain. Winter didn’t want to submit to spring this year. She said, “I guess I’m waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“For you to tell me to leave again.”
Elizabeth stood, leaving her newspaper spread out across the kitchen table—the comics, Olive noticed with a pang, she’d been reading the comics—and went and wrapped her arms around Olive. She cleaved to her, like some mimed wedding vow. With Elizabeth against her back, Olive's front felt cold; Bill should have been there, she thought, hot against her belly, scented with sandalwood. How would they ever come back to each other again without him to go between them, to be the one who, dammit, could go wherever he pleased, who was so sure he could want whatever he wanted?
Elizabeth said, “I won’t—”
“Because I won’t just go this time,” Olive said. “I’ll bite down on our life until you have to pry my jaws open, I won’t leave you alone, I won’t break up the children again. If Bill’s not here to make peace, and you want to fight me, I’ll fucking go to war.” She was speaking too quickly, her breath coming in sharp, shallow pants. What would the lie detector have said about all this? She imagined a slim cord across her chest—but no, that was just the circle of Elizabeth’s arms, tightening now.
“I want you to win,” Elizabeth said against her ear. “I won’t ask. God, your heart, it’s racing.” Her hand flattened against Olive’s breast and then her fingers slipped through the gaps between her buttons, popping them off until they scattered on the floor. Her palm cupped Olive’s skin. “And I’m the one in this fucking family who goes around saying fuck, for that matter. As in: I want to fuck you now, Olive, if you’ll come away from the fucking window.”
Yes, they shouldn’t keep on taking their chances that way, no matter how much the weather had driven people inside. Although some part of Olive did want Elizabeth to bend her against the sill and drive her fingers into her cunt then and there, Olive’s breath fogging up the cold glass. Let their fine upstanding neighbors look on what they so liked to speculate about. She felt like lust was about to split her in two, about to do the work she wanted to require of Elizabeth's hand.
“The bedroom,” she said, turning blindly for the stairs. “We have to hurry, we promised to pick the kids up when their movie lets out.”
At first Olive thought that meant they wouldn’t bother with the hatboxes, but Elizabeth not only pulled them down from the top of the closet but did so with such a ferocity that they all came tumbling down, spilling their contents everywhere: they had ridded themselves of the damn nurse’s outfit, but there was everything else, even Bill’s costumes. Elizabeth bent down and picked up his officer’s hat and, after a moment, settled it down on the dark, glossy crown of her head. It suited her.
Olive sat back on the bed and opened up her legs as Elizabeth stepped between them.
She had shed her skirt the moment the bedroom door had closed behind them and now she felt the cool air prickle the insides of her thighs, though her cunt was impervious to that; she felt like Elizabeth must be warmer simply by standing so close. The thin, sheer underwear couldn’t have gotten in the way much, certainly.
Elizabeth smiled at her with a softness that never seemed to belong on her mouth. She brushed her thumb over the crease between Olive’s thigh and her mound and Olive whimpered, raising up, twisting sideways.
“I don’t think we have time to mess about with knots,” Elizabeth said. “But I want you to keep your arms above your head, your fingers laced. There you go.”
The pose pulled her breasts up and evidently drew Elizabeth’s attention to them; she caressed one idly, though without removing Olive’s sweater or her bra. Olive’s nipple stiffened uselessly—Elizabeth’s hand was gone. Her whole body felt like nothing but points of horribly unrelieved tension. This was the cruelty she loved, the kind that blithely took for granted for that she could be teased for hours, for years, because they would have that time together. The kind of cruelty that doubled as a pledge. Never mind that Olive herself had just said they had to hurry—she couldn’t care anymore. This was something they needed.
“Can you stay like that?” Elizabeth said, running one cool finger up the inside of Olive’s arm.
Elizabeth knelt between Olive’s legs and, with no more warning than that, licked a hot line right up the center of her cunt, direct and firm. Olive arched up against her mouth, careful, even in her surge of want, to keep her arms up and rigid. Elizabeth looked up at her, only her eyes visible above the downy-blonde thatch of Olive’s hair, only her eyes and her cap, the dark liveliness of her and the ghost of their other, their lost Bill. She pressed her mouth against Olive’s cunt again, working her roughly and carelessly, soaking her and tasting her without bringing her to any peak at all.
Then she rose up and repositioned herself, pushing her fingers roughly inside Olive's body. Olive gasped.
“Yes,” she said, struggling against Elizabeth’s hand, feeling the force of her promise binding her wrists to the pillow, “yes, please.”
“Maybe I do have penis envy,” Elizabeth said—it was the way she had to pick up discussions they had left behind years ago, as if everything in her head was happening simultaneously. She had always been the cleverest. “If I had a cock, I don’t think I’d do anything in the world but fuck you, ever. It’s the way your mouth makes this perfect little o-shape when I get inside you, it's so satisfying.”
Olive lifted her legs up and wrapped them around Elizabeth’s waist, drawing her in. Elizabeth let herself be drawn. Her hair was in disarray, her lips red and wet. Whenever they made love, she always looked like one of the Furies. She’d kept myths wrapped around her ever since they’d first fucked on that stage back at Radcliffe. Olive’s impossible woman.
She came then, her orgasm brutal and short, like a collision, and Elizabeth withdrew from her. Olive moved to touch her but Elizabeth caught her hands and positioned them back above her head and Olive lifted her chin in silent, breathless acknowledgment. Elizabeth stripped away her slacks and her underwear and climbed up on the bed, straddling Olive’s face. The smell of her cunt went through Olive like an aftershock.
“Like that,” Olive said. “Do it.”
Elizabeth bore down against her and rode her mouth, Olive licking and kissing her and being used by her, Elizabeth’s silky thighs tight, Olive’s arms burning with the effort it took to keep them in place when all she wanted was to use them to tug Elizabeth more and more into her in ways that were dirty, impossible, unbearable. From where she was, with the two of them like this, she could not see the hat on Elizabeth’s head. This felt complete. It felt like theirs.
Afterwards, they dressed slowly. Olive changed her blouse—she would be the one who would have to stitch the buttons back into place, if she kept the thing at all, because Elizabeth was no use with a needle—and brushed her hair. Necessity provoked her to wash her face, to take the last traces of Elizabeth away, and she resented it. Resented being clean and presentable.
“I love you,” Elizabeth said from across the room. She had just squeezed the bulb on her perfume and a delicate mist hung in the air. “I always have.”
That wasn’t what Olive had been unsure of, now or ever. She nodded. Her arms were sore from tension and she rubbed at them, hugging herself.
“I won’t fuck it all up again,” Elizabeth said. She looked away and began searching for her cigarettes—Olive could have told her where they were, actually, but she enjoyed watching Elizabeth comb through the clutter atop her dresser. “And I think we should tell the children—the older ones at least—that we won’t be using that second bedroom anymore. That we never used it in the first place.” She came up with the cigarettes at last and tapped one out into her hand. She met Olive’s eyes and didn’t comment on whatever it was she found there, whatever light Olive could feel inside herself. “Because you’re right, it’s all-or-nothing, and I’ve already had as much of nothing as I can stand. They love us. They’ll figure out whatever deal it is they want to make with the world, but we’ll be honest with them. They’re ours—they don't belong to whatever’s out there.” She nodded at the window and lit her cigarette.
Olive felt the cord stretched out between them, as invisible and strong as the one that had held her wrists. She said, “Then except for financially, we’re going to be fine,” and Elizabeth laughed.
“We’ll work it out. Don’t make me be the optimist, though, I can’t stand it. You build castles in the air and I’ll work out whether or not they’ll stand up and then you’ll tell me they will anyway.” She checked her watch. “We do need to be off. Bad enough everyone’s convinced of our perversion, we can’t possibly also be negligent mothers in the process, heaven forbid.”
Before they left the room, though, Olive knelt down and picked up the hat from where it had fallen on the floor; some movement of Elizabeth’s, when she’d been out of Olive’s sight, must have jostled it free. There was a strand of Elizabeth’s hair sticking to the band now. Some submission, Olive supposed, to time.