“It’s okay.” Carol murmured. “I won’t hurt you. I’ll never, ever hurt you.”
She said this roughly six months after hurting Therese more than anyone ever had. She didn’t seem to realize the irony, and Therese was glad for this. There’d been enough apologies, enough walking on eggshells.
They were in Carol’s apartment, in Carol’s bed, which was rare. Therese usually preferred her own space. It made her feel safer, in control. She was slowly rebuilding things with Carol, becoming more comfortable in the much larger Madison Avenue apartment. Tonight, there wasn’t much choice in location. They were in the midst of a brutal heatwave, and Carol had air conditioning. Doing this at Therese’s place would be sweaty and exhausting for all the wrong reasons. And Therese didn’t want her bed, not for this.
She was bare, her dress and underwear discarded. Carol hovered over her, still in bra and panties. Therese shivered as the cool air hit her skin. Carol kissed the edge of her mouth, tongue brushing over her lips until Therese granted entrance. Therese wrapped her arms around Carol’s neck, drawing her in tighter. The kisses remained languid though, Carol refusing to deepen them. She kissed like she’d be content with just that all night, and Therese knew she would be. Therese breathed into Carol’s mouth, realized her foolishness. She was trying to make this like last time, instead of something completely different, better.
Letting her hand skim down Carol’s ribs, her side, Therese stopped at the hip, rubbing circles over the bone there, the fabric covering it. She’d pulled Carol’s underwear off countless times, had her mouth on Carol, her fingers. She’d been inside Carol, felt Carol pulse and tighten and let go on her fingers. The opposite was not true.
Carol tried, in Waterloo, and Therese would’ve let her. She wouldn’t have said a thing because the rest of it had been so perfect, and she feared breaking the spell, saying anything that would make it stop, make Carol stop. But Carol had seen it, or sensed it, the way everything in Therese hesitated, drew back, outside of her control. Therese was mortified, but Carol had only covered her in kisses then, face, shoulders, breasts, and moved her fingers back up.
Carol asked later, apologized for not asking. Therese realized Carol thought she was a virgin, and corrected her, even though Richard was the last thing she’d wanted to talk about. She told Carol the truth, how she’d slept with Richard twice.
“And it hurt,” Carol said, not asked.
Therese nodded. “Even more the second time. Is it supposed to?”
“Does it always?” She’d asked this, then felt silly. It hadn’t hurt Carol when Therese used her fingers. Carol had quite liked it, even though Therese had felt clumsy and unsure at first. But oh, Carol had enjoyed it, and Therese was proud of herself remembering.
“No,” Carol said, smiled like she knew what Therese was thinking of. “Not when you’re ready, not when it’s right. It’s harder to get that way at first, but worth it.”
“Yes. Couldn’t you tell?”
And Carol had smirked, proved that she definitely knew what Therese was thinking.
Carol said, almost casually as they lay folded into each other in bed, that she would prove it to Therese sometime, if Therese wanted. And Therese had been so, so happy because Carol was saying out loud that things could keep being this good, that this happiness would continue. Therese had fallen asleep thinking of how she didn’t need to be back until February. They still had so many roads to travel, places to visit. She would do this with Carol again and again, and Carol would show her things how they really were, how they were supposed to be.
Hours later, it all ended. The telegram came and they left. There wouldn’t be any more travels, anymore discoveries, any more time.
Everything was different at the Drake, the last night she would see Carol for months. Carol kissed harder, grabbed her neck and her jaw, and loved her like she was a lifeline. And Therese, who couldn’t fix any of this, couldn’t offer one single shred of help, found herself moving Carol’s fingers down further. Carol seemed to need everything from her, and Therese would give it. Carol could put her fingers inside and hold on to Therese that way, the ultimate connection.
But Carol had only kissed her again, taken Therese’s hand that was guiding hers along, kissed there too.
“Not this way,” she’d said, tried so hard to smile. “Another time.”
Therese was selfishly relieved. She would’ve done that with Carol, but it would be for Carol. Silly as it was after all they’d done already, Therese didn’t want that for herself, yet. She’d cried when Richard was inside her. It hurt so bad that he apologized and said she made him feel like a brute. Then Therese apologized for making him feel that way, and it’d all been a mess, not just because of the red stain in the sheets. She didn’t want that again, to cry and make Carol feel bad, when Carol already felt so awful. She feared it.
But Carol said no and smiled, put it off for another time. Therese was reassured underneath the weight of all her heartbreak, because Carol was saying there would still be more time, another chance. She’d fallen asleep with that comfort, that shred of security.
Carol was gone by the time she woke up.
The memories hit less often now, the ache of loneliness and betrayal. Therese pushed them away, reminded herself that Carol was back, even as Carol kissed between her breasts, then ducked, shifted, moved her whole body downward.
“Carol?” Therese was baffled as she watched Carol settle between her legs. She was hit suddenly by an older, even more unwelcome recollection. Richard on top of her, laughing, actually laughing when Therese was hurting and confused. She’d asked him if this was right and he’d laughed, kissed the tip of her nose as though she’d asked the cutest, most hilarious thing.
Therese half-expected Carol to laugh at her this time, but all Carol did was kiss her knee, so like and so unlike what Richard had done months and months ago. “I haven’t forgotten where we’re aiming,” Carol said, and she was amused, but not mocking, only warm and happy, “but let’s get you ready first.”
Therese almost said that she was ready. They’d drank wine in the cool hideaway of the apartment while the stifling May air hit the windows. They’d laughed and kissed and petted, and Therese had stumbled into Carol a little on the way to the bedroom, but that was more because of the kissing than the drinking. She was wet, certainly more than she’d been either time with Richard.
She almost told Carol she was ready, but Carol looked so good with her head between Therese’s legs, cheek nuzzling her thigh. It was a familiar sight, but not stale in the least, despite Therese wanting to try this new thing, so she let her head fall on the mountain of pillows behind her, silently acquiescing to whatever else Carol thought necessary.
Carol started off massaging Therese’s inner thighs, careful, practiced hands kneading delicate skin. Sometimes her nails raked over it and Therese would shiver, not because of the air conditioning. Soon, Carol used her mouth too, sucking little bruises into Therese’s flesh, and that part had Therese gasping. She loved the marks that no one else would see, how they rubbed against each other at work while Therese hauled photo chemicals and got leered at by some of the men. The hidden bruises made her impervious to their looks, made it possible to get through the days that she didn’t see Carol. Mostly, these separations happened because they were both working. Sometimes, less and less often, they were Therese’s choice, making sure she kept her own time, her own world, so that she didn’t fall so hopelessly, dangerously deep into Carol’s again.
She’d dived headfirst without looking before. This time, she’d carry a rope. Carol didn’t protest (much) when Therese expressed a need for more time apart, didn’t comment on how those declarations were coming fewer and farther between, though Therese knew that she realized it.
The marks helped, kept Carol with her, on her, even when they weren’t together.
Carol’s teeth were in play now, just enough to make Therese squirm. Carol rested an arm over Therese’s middle to hold her still, made eye contact. Then there was a quiet curse, Carol shaking her head and sitting up again.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said, as though she were quite fed up with herself.
“What? Why?” Therese tried to keep the panic out of her voice, didn’t entirely succeed. She imagined Carol leaving the bed, throwing on a robe, going away. Or, more likely, telling Therese to go away, since this was Carol’s apartment.
Carol did not leave the bed. She stretched, grabbed one of the pillows Therese wasn’t using. She slid it under Therese as far as she could, then simply looked at her when she didn’t move. It clicked then, and Therese lifted herself up enough for Carol to slide the pillow beneath her. Therese giggled.
“What?” Carol asked, brows raised and lips quirked just a little, trying to decide if she was being mocked.
“You,” Therese laughed again, “you stopped, for that?”
“I paused for that,” Carol corrected. “I just want you comfortable.”
Carol was pouting a little, and Therese tried not to laugh more. She’d misread Carol’s intent, and now she was laughing, like Richard, and she felt bad, even though Carol didn’t act like she was really hurt.
“Sorry,” Therese said, swallowing down the giggles. “Nervous.”
Carol softened. “You hadn’t admitted it before,” she said quietly, watching Therese.
“No. But you knew.” She’d seen it in Carol’s eyes, seen it from the first night in Waterloo, when Carol pulled her hand away.
“Yes, I knew. Still.” She moved back up, lay down on her side, balanced on an elbow, next to Therese. Brushing dark stands away from Therese’s eyes, Carol kissed her, nibbled at her jaw. “Is there something I can do to make it better?”
“No,” Therese said, amending her answer because Carol was looking at her so intensely, almost desperately. “What you’re doing,” said Therese, stroking cheek, then her forehead, smoothing out the tiny worry lines there. “This helps, I promise. Just keep doing whatever you’re doing.”
“Whatever I’m doing,” Carol repeated, amused again.
“I’m sorry,” Therese said, laughing a little. “I don’t know how this works.”
Carol smiled. “Don’t be sorry. Tell me if you don’t like something. That’s all you need to know.”
Therese nodded readily to this. It was a standing agreement. Seemingly satisfied, Carol kissed her and then moved back down, resuming her position from before they were sidetracked.
Before Carol, Therese hadn’t known this existed, not really. She might’ve heard Phil joke about it to another man at a party once, maybe, but they’d stopped as soon as they saw her. Sister Maria might’ve referenced it once, vaguely, while lecturing the older girls at the school about how there was more than one way to commit God’s worst sin. Sister Maria was rather militant in her beliefs though, and God’s worst sin was her favorite subject, so there was really no telling what she was talking about at any given time.
Richard hadn’t offered to do this with her either time, and thank God. Therese would’ve been even more mortified than she already was. Carol though, Carol had made an art form out of this, and any trepidation that came with it during that first night in Waterloo was quickly overtaken by much stronger feelings.
She’d asked Carol once if Harge had ever done this on her.
“He tried,” Carol said. They were smushed together into There’s too-small bed at the time, and Therese had felt her shrug. “It was nice of him to think of me.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means he thought I’d enjoy it, and that was nice of him.”
She’d already told Carol by then how disastrous it was with Richard. Carol scowled through most of the explanation. That led to Therese asking about Harge, and Carol had rolled her eyes.
“It was different with us. We were both equally clueless, and there were timing issues.”
“We had to get it done before he shipped off. But he wasn’t like Richard. He really did try his best not to hurt me.”
Therese remembered hearing that and wondering what could’ve changed so drastically, how he went from trying his best not to hurt Carol to doing the very opposite. She remembered fearing that she and Carol might change that much someday, then pushing the thought aside when Carol offered her a drag from her cigarette. No matter what happened, they wound never change that way. They couldn’t hate each other, couldn’t want to harm each other.
“So how was it?” she’d asked, exhaling smoke off the cigarette with Carol’s lipstick on it.
Carol shrugged again. “It happened less and less. When it did, I at least had the chance to go over my grocery list.”
Therese coughed, blushed. “You don’t, do that with me, do you?”
“Plan out the shopping.” Therese wasn’t as experienced as Carol, was certain she wasn’t as good.
“Honey, planning out the shopping requires me to think, at least a little.”
“So, I cannot think of anything at all with your head between my legs.”
That was how Therese was when Carol did this. Her mind, which Carol affectionately said was always busy, always pondering, nearly shut down. Everything was touch and feeling and instinct. The noise in her brain was replaced by her own needy cries, by the sounds Carol made as she licked and hummed and sucked against Therese.
The noises were slightly muted by the whirr of the air conditioner, but this seemed only to spur Carol on, make her determined to have Therese be louder. Whether it was a goal or not, it happened, Therese crying out more urgently as her hips rolled forward into Carol’s face. Carol’s tongue was everywhere, and Therese still wanted more. She chased it with abandon, one hand buried in Carol’s hair, the other grasping desperately at one of the pillows surrounding her. She wanted more, wanted all of it. She practically sobbed when Carol backed off, her hips still pushing against something that wasn’t there anymore.
“I think you might be ready, sweetheart.”
Carol’s eyes matched her voice, dark and hungry. She rested a hand over Therese, cupping her most intimate parts, giving some relief with her fingers as Therese continued to seek pressure. Therese, gasping chilled air into her lungs, had almost forgotten those fingers, forgotten that they had a goal.
“Do you think you might be?” Carol asked.
There was nothing demanding in it. Hopeful, maybe, but not demanding. Therese had learned to say no. She could say no to Carol and it would be okay. More than okay. Carol would put her mouth right back where it was, or use those fingers on her clit.
Nothing bad would happen if she said no.
Therese removed her hand from Carol’s hair, brought it low, between her own legs. She gasped. She was slick and swollen and warm there, in a way she couldn’t remember feeling before, not ever. It was impossible to tell the difference between what came from her and what came from Carol’s mouth, but there was so much.
Carol was watching her with new intensity. “Christ.” Her voice was almost ragged. “You’re beautiful when you touch yourself. You know that, don’t you?”
She didn’t really, but knew Carol thought so. “I don’t want to.”
“I want you to do it. Please. Touch me inside.”
The look on Carol’s face was impossible for Therese to describe, would’ve been so even if she was working with all of her higher functions. It was a look that made Therese shiver as she pulled her hand away to give Carol better access. Her fingertips were damp and Carol caught her wrist, kissed each finger as if she hadn’t been surrounded by the taste they held for untold minutes.
She squeezed Therese’s hand before letting go. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Therese replied easily, truthfully. It used to scare her, how true that statement was. The fear was easing day by day. She smiled at Carol as she let her arm fall above her, to the pillow.
Carol smiled back, kissed Therese’s clit one more time, like a promise to return. Then she sat up, balanced on her knees between Therese’s legs.
Therese gasped for the wrong reasons. “No. No, come here, please. Need you here, I need…”
Therese could understand why Carol did it. She’d told Carol how Richard had lain on top of her both times, how it was hard to breathe, how she’d felt crushed under him and the weight of his thrusts. But Carol wasn’t like that. Carol’s weight was grounding, reassuring, a gentle force that kept Therese from coming apart in the wrong way. The thought of being without it now brought panic, as all-consuming as it was irrational.
Carol was there instantly, covering her like a blanket, kissing her face. “I’m here,” she promised, and even in the state they were both in, Therese recognized that it was a promise. “I’m here, I’ve got you.”
Therese clung, both arms finding their way behind Carol’s back. She kissed at Carol’s collarbones, her throat, only slightly embarrassed by the outburst. The shame was quickly driven from her mind, as Carol rolled her clit between her fingers. Slowly, those fingers dragged lower, over warm, swollen flesh.
Therese tensed. No matter how much she wanted this, some part of her remained wary. The sense memory was still there, how much it hurt how she’d wept. Her legs closed around Carol’s waist, not to bring her in closer, or hold her where she was, but to stop what she might do. It was an instinctive reaction that Therese hated, had no control over. Her thighs shook.
“It’s okay,” Carol said, taking her hands from Therese’s center to massage both of her legs. “Try to relax. Deep breaths, nice and slow.”
Therese did as Carol said, bringing air to the muscles under Carol’s hands. Carol leaned forward and kissed her forehead. They were breast to breast and Therese could feel Carol breathing deeply, giving her something to follow. It was so different from the first time. Richard had told her to relax too, but he’d never given her a chance, never stopped pawing and pushing, and how was she meant to relax when it hurt so much? The second time, he hadn’t bothered with any sort of encouragements, assuming everything was fine now they’d done it once.
Carol wasn’t like that. Carol was rubbing Therese’s leg with one hand still, using the other to toy with Therese’s clit again. Therese’s head fell back against the pillow, turned to one side, and Carol kissed at her exposed neck. She hit one of Therese’s weak spots, sucked on it until Therese cried out, brought her body closer to Carol’s. Carol continued her rubbing, her gentle tugs on Therese’s clit, and quite suddenly, Therese knew it was all too much. It was open and raw and perfect, and absolutely more than she could take.
She wanted more.
“Carol…” Therese clung, buried her head against Carol’s shoulder. She felt Carol kiss her hair.
“It’ll be alright,” Carol said. “If it isn’t, I’ll stop.”
Therese kissed the side of Carol’s neck, held her close. Carol snaked an arm across Therese’s back, her other hand still busy between Therese’s legs. It was almost a dance, Therese thought, the two of them shifting into each other, rocking. And then the limited thought Therese was still capable of went out the window as Carol worked a finger inside.
It didn’t hurt, which surprised her. It was strange, tight, and it made her breath catch, but it didn’t hurt. She pulled Carol even tighter against her. Carol was kissing her hair and nuzzling her, and some part of Therese realized that Carol wanted to see her. She wasn’t ready yet, even though she’d needed the same of Carol the first time—the first several times—they’d made love.
“Sweetheart?” said Carol, a purr with hint of worry underneath. “God, you feel good.”
Therese made a choked whimper of a noise she barely recognized as being human, let alone coming from her.
“Do you?” Carol’s curls tickled her cheek. “Feel good?”
Therese hummed, moaned, made herself pull back from Carol just a little. This freed up her hand a little more, made movement easier, and Therese felt the pattern Carol drew against her clit change. She nodded, panting for breath.
Carol smiled. “You have no idea how badly I’ve wanted to see this, feel this.”
It hadn’t occurred to Therese until she followed Carol’s gaze, that she could see what Carol was doing. With Richard, it was dark and they were covered and Therese barely understood what was happening, only that it hurt. This time the lights were on, the cool air hitting bare skin and nothing else. Therese looked down and saw Carol’s finger moving inside her. The sight paired with the sensation did things to Therese she didn’t think possible.
The minutes that followed were a haze. Carol kept kissing her, kept rubbing her. Carol’s finger hit somewhere inside Therese that she knew existed for other women (at least for Carol). She’d wondered sometimes whether this certain spot even existed for her, but those doubts receded further and further with each movement.
Her climax was due at least as much to the familiar as the new. Carol’s fingers on her clit were expert, practiced, a contrast to the carful way she crooked her finger inside. Carol usually liked at least two fingers, but didn’t try for more than one with Therese. Therese was glad. She’d like to try more someday, be stretched by Carol in the way Carol showed her, but she wasn’t ready yet. They had time again, and this was enough for now. More than enough.
It was strange and exquisite, clamping down on Carol’s finger like she did. Carol kissed her and held her, and gave a soft warning when she was going to pull away. Therese nodded, closed her eyes against discomfort that didn’t come. Next time she’d need to keep her eyes open. She’d missed seeing when Carol entered her, then again when she left.
They were small complaints, and Therese was quick to hum agreement when Carol asked if she was alright, quicker still to burrow into Carol’s open arms. Therese shivered, sweat drying fast on her skin. Carol pulled the sheet over them, tossed aside the pillow Therese had rested on.
“Did you like it?”
There was an odd mixture of smugness and uncertainty there, and Therese smiled, putting her head against Carol’s breast. “Yes. I didn’t once think of groceries.”
Therese had to reposition herself temporarily. Carol was laughing too hard to function as a suitable pillow.
They lay together without speaking for a bit, Therese dozing lightly. It was the fear that’d tired her, at least as much as the physical exertion. She’d had no reason to be scared, and now she was simply content, and tired.
She did not mean to ask the question, did not mean to put this bit of perfection at risk. The words came seemingly without her control, the same way her body had so instinctively pulled Carol’s finger deeper. “Why another time?”
“Hmm?” Carol’s fingers were combing through her hair.
“After Iowa. I tried to, to do what we just did, but you said no.”
The fingers in her hair stopped. “You weren’t ready.”
It was a careful answer. Therese sat up so she could look at Carol properly. She hadn’t planned the question, but wanted the answer. “I know, but that’s not what you said. You said ‘another time,’ and you’d already talked to Abby. You already knew…” That she was leaving, wouldn’t be there in the morning.
Carol sighed. Her eyes turned too bright very suddenly. “I was wishing, I suppose.”
“I wanted it to be true. I wanted other times, so many other times. I wanted to do that for you, with you. I’m sorry. It, it was a selfish thing. Another one. God, I’ve been so selfish.”
Therese kissed her, softly. It didn’t feel right, talking of Carol’s selfishness after what they’d just done. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not. It’s—”
Therese kissed her again. “It is.” There were other things that weren’t, not quite yet, but they would be. “Your wish came true, didn’t it? There were other times. There’ll always be other times.”
“Will there?” Carol asked, sounding very vulnerable, very unlike the person she’d been a few minutes ago.
“Yes,” Therese said simply, laying back down against Carol and moving Carol’s arm until it was around her. “Always.”