Actions

Work Header

Adena’s Journey Back to Kat

Chapter Text

Adena returns to a gloomy hotel room after taking a walk in the rain to think about what happened earlier. She retrieves a dress from the tall armoire and lays it down on the bed. Staring at the black ornate outfit with trepidation, she unlocks her phone and sends a text.

Adena:
I’m sorry, I cannot go to the party.
I’ll see you in our room afterwards.

Adena feels a raw mix of emotions, both anger and disappointment. Anger at Kat for having impulsively met with her ex, Coco. And disappointment with herself for bottling up her feelings of helplessness and frustration with her lack of artistic inspiration and visa issues. But mainly displeasure towards Kat for calling her out on what was happening to her all these months. “Damn Kat, why?”

She tosses her cell phone down on top of the bed and collapses onto her knees, grasping at the edge of the king size mattress and burying her face in the duvet. Now sobbing like a baby, longing for her mother’s tender arms to embrace her. Just like she did when she was 10, after her father forbid her from playing football with the neighborhood boys. “Oh Maman, deltanget-am!”

The next half-hour moved by slowly. Adena spent that time in a fetal position on the floor, in a kind of trance state that was finally broken when she heard a rambunctious crowd in the hallway outside her room. Then, unable to breath clearly from all her crying, she got up and entered the bathroom looking for tissues. Peering into the mirror she splashed cold water on her face. The reflection of a vaguely recognizable woman looked back at her, with swollen eyes and a red nose. It was a pitiful sight, to say the least.

“Okay, Okay, breath Adena. Get ahold of yourself.” She looked at the alarm clock and knew she had over an hour before the Soirée would end and Kat would presumably return to their room. Opening up google, Adena searched for direct flights out of Charles de Gaulle to Morocco, all after noon-time tomorrow. Knowing she had a 9 AM appointment with American immigration officials that needed her attendance, she could not leave Paris too early. So, with a click of a button and her credit card information, Adena secured her ticket to freedom, from Kat and from her current troubles.

Adena was on a mission now opening up her contacts on her phone and dialing a number, waiting for a familiar voice to answer.

“Allo?”

“Zareen?” Adena sniffled into the receiver.

“Adena-joon, are you alright?!”

Adena explained to her little sister briefly what had happened and what her travel plans were. Then asked if she could stay with her for a while, as she would not be returning directly to New York City.

Zareen was Adena’s only sibling. She was five years her minor and a Biochemist by profession at a bioscience laboratory in Morocco. She lived in a big house she shared with six other female scientists that worked for the same company. Adena had always been Zareen’s rock and like a second mother to her baby sister. And, Zareen was always Adena’s sounding board when she needed a shoulder to cry on.

“Yes, of course Aziz-am. You are very welcome to stay with me. In fact, my suite-mate Farida has returned to Pakistan and therefore I have a private room we can share.”

—————
There was a clicking sound and turn of the door handle and Kat entered the hotel room for the night. Although she had a dejected expression on her face, she looked absolutely gorgeous wearing her gold suit and black lace see-through top. Adena sat in the dark, on the edge of the bed directly looking towards her. The only light came from the ajar bathroom door. Kat walked over with heavy eyes and immediately knew, by the look on her girlfriend’s face and tone in her voice, what was coming.

“I’m so very sorry, Kat.” Adena shook her head and Kat knelt in front of the artist and took her trembling hands in hers. “Kat...I can’t do this anymore...I’ve booked a ticket to stay with my sister in Marrakech...Morocco. I leave at noon tomorrow. I will text you the address of where to send me my belongings when you get back home, okay?” Adena’s expression hardened and Kat collapsed forward into her lap, bawling and shaking her head in agreement. Adena laid her hand gently on the nape of her neck and just held her.

In the morning when Kat awoke, Adena and her possessions were all gone.

—————
On the three hour flight to Marrakech Adena stayed silent and strong, trying to only think about the new adventures that awaited her future. Every so often Kat’s face would enter her mind, but she’d quickly vanish the vision. But as she landed at the airport and was met by her sister’s soft dark eyes, her emotional wall broke and a waterfall of feelings came rapidly spilling out.

“Oh Adena-joon, I’m so, so very sorry.” Zareen held her tightly in her arms while Adena wept by the luggage carousel, in the taxi home, and in Zareen’s room. In fact, Adena spent the next five days in her pajamas in bed, in a dark room, mostly weeping. Adena was an emotional mess. Zareen didn’t know how to console her big sister, who had always been a pillar of strength. She had never seen her this broken. Nothing she did or said helped. Adena barely ate and just left the bed to use the bathroom and wash up a bit.

“Adena, I’m very worried about you. I’ve never seen you like this before,” Zareen said while rubbing her hair and her back. “Perhaps you should talk to Maman about this...about Kat.”

“No, no I’m not ready to talk to Maman. I just want the earth to swallow me whole, Zareen.”

On the sixth day Zareen finally got Adena to dress and go outside into the courtyard garden, sit on a bench for an hour, and talk. “Isn’t it nice to be in the sun, with the singing birds all around us, âbji?”

Adena sighed and lifted her head but kept her eyes shut, feeling the sunlight warm her face.

“Adena, do you want to tell me what happened between you and Kat? It may help me understand better why you left. You were both doing great when we spoke on the phone two weeks ago. Please let me in your heart, joon.”

Now facing her sister, Adena frowned. Zareen could see the vulnerability in Adena’s eyes and put her hand on her shoulder.

“I’ve been feeling artistically stuck for some time now. At first I thought it was due to the stress of my unstable relationship with Coco. But, it got worse after I was deported by American Immigration. You know, when I tried to return to New York form Paris, to be with Kat. I was eventually only able to obtain a short three month temporary-visa, which put a lot of pressure on me. I was living in her place, desperate to produce, to make money, to prove my worth to the U.S. government. Then, when I was hopeful my inspiration was coming back, something happened with Kat.” Adena said in a strangled voice while tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

As Zareen wiped away at Adena’s tears with her pocket handkerchief, a warm autumn breeze swooped down and sent the garden olive trees dancing. Adena continued, “When I was away at an artists’ retreat, Kat cheated on me. She was invited to a bar by a mutual friend, got inebriated, and kissed another woman.”

“How did you find out about this?”

“Kat actually told me as soon as I got home. She was very sorry, confused, and said it didn’t mean anything to her. But I knew subconsciously it did mean something, or else she wouldn’t have tried it. So, although it would be devastating, I considered terminating our union.”

“But you didn’t because you were still together, right?”

“That night Kat begged me not to break up. She said she didn’t want to lose me and the feeling was mutual, we had fallen in love with each other. So instead I allowed for an open relationship, where we could see other people but still be girlfriends.”

“And did you, did you date other women?”

“I chose not to, focusing my energy on my art. But Kat did. She was new to being with a woman, as I was her first. She was curious and I pushed her to try it.” Adena shook her head, “Yes, I encouraged her into the open relationship because I thought she’d resent me later if I didn’t allow her to experiment. Selfishly, I realize now I was happy to see her occupied with others to take the pressure off me, so I could work. But it back fired and we didn’t communicate as well anymore, she became irrationally jealous thinking I too was seeing other women, and I withdrew emotionally from her, us.”

So what happened in Paris, Adena?”

Adena scrunched up her face and dragged her foot on the sandy soil. “I’m not really sure. But she went behind my back and spoke to Coco, to find out why I wasn’t showing my photographs in her gallery. That evening in our hotel, she confronted me on my lack of artistic productivity, how I had kept my misery to myself, and how I blamed her for being uninspiring. And, at that moment it all came crashing down on me. The open relationship, the lack of communication, her jealousy, my being uninspired, it was all too much! So, I blamed her and I ran.”

Zareen took a moment to contemplate the situation Adena described. “Has she tried to contact you since? Or do you want to call her?”

“No, neither of us have. I’m afraid she doesn’t want to speak to me. I know I really hurt her when I left. Kat’s never been in a relationship before and, though she’s very impulsive, she’s also very hard-headed.”

“Well, I know another person who can be very headstrong, like Baba was. And I say that to you lovingly.” Zareen disclosed, pushing on Adena’s shoulder.

Adena scowled at Zareen. “I’m only going to contact her via text with your address. I need her to ship me all of my things from her apartment. My bigger items are in storage at my friend Firuze’s basement. But I left a closet full of clothes and some photo equipment at Kat’s flat. It’s better if we don’t talk on the phone. Time will help her heal and perhaps she can find what... or rather, who will make her happy. Kat can only figure that out by herself. I’ve set her free and I’m done dealing with her adolescent tendencies and insecurities.”

Adena crossed her arms, tilting her face up to the sky and closing her eyes once more, letting the warm breeze wash over her. Zareen knew her last statement was just a defense mechanism and she probably didn’t really mean it. Adena was probably just thinking, ‘If I cut you out of my life or deem our relationship not “real,” you can’t hurt me anymore’, to save herself from a broken heart.

Chapter Text

By week two Adena was exhibiting more normal behavior. She was waking up early and joining Zareen for morning prayers, was eating breakfast, and was dressing and going into the local open market daily to buy freshly baked bread, cheese, and fruit. She had yet to look at social media and had turned off her notifications, avoiding anything to do with Kat. Neither Adena nor Kat had made any effort to contact each other.

The days seemed to be much easier on Adena, as she kept herself occupied. However, the evenings were a different story. Zareen still felt a heavy heart for her sister, who cried herself to sleep at night. All Zareen could do was lovingly hold Adena while humming songs from their childhood in her ear.

On the third week, Adena began to carry her camera to the marketplace and started randomly photographing friendly merchants at work and children playing. Many of the local town shops sold colorful handcrafts, like traditional turbans, necklaces, pottery, rugs, and djellabas. Adena found these vibrant items suitable subjects for her photographs.

While window shopping further into town, she came across a travel agency advertising local sightseeing tours and excursions to mysterious and interesting spots. Inside she obtained some free tourist pamphlets and bought a map of Morocco. Adena took a water break under a eucalyptus tree and looked at the pamphlets and map. “Hmm, this place Erfoud offers many inspirational opportunities for a photographer,” she said to herself. The leaflet also said that there was a bus from Marrakesh that departed for Erfoud early every morning. So, Adena took out her phone and googled the city. The search said Erfoud was the ‘Gateway to the Sahara Desert’ and was known for its fossils. Adena decided she would travel there for more artistic motivation.

- - - - -
Back at the house, Adena unpacked the groceries and went to wash up. In her room she perused through the day’s photographs on the camera’s memory card. She began to gather ideas for future gallery presentations and noted possible shots to use. She also decided to post a few of the photos on her instagram account with the caption, “Feeling inspired”.

The memory card also held scenery photos Adena had snapped during Paris Fashion Week, which she quickly erased to free up more space. A surprising photo emerged when the Paris pictures disappeared. It was an old picture Adena had forgotten she took of Kat, wearing her pink striped sweater and glasses. She had taken it at Kat’s apartment the day before meeting her parents. Adena looked at Kat’s photo with a long, searching gaze. She put her thumb over the camera’s delete button but couldn’t push it. “Oh Kat, you did inspire me in many ways. I’m sorry I never told you,” she whispered to herself with a somber expression. Adena decided to keep the picture for old time’s sake. Perhaps some day she would print it and give it to Kat.

Putting her camera away for the day, Adena curiously opened up Kat’s Instagram to see what she had been posting. Most were mundane, work related notices about makeup or the latest celebrity on the Scarlet magazine cover. But she did find a recent photo of Kat looking gorgeous in long braids. The post was captioned, “Got braids and a crown for a new me!” There was a second picture of Kat’s new wrist tattoo. Adena knew that Kat didn’t have any tattoos so this was a big change for her. She bit her bottom lip while she scrolled through more posts, then decided to turn on her social media notifications again in case Kat posted new material.

Unexpectedly, the room door flew open and Zareen walked in hopping into bed with Adena. Adena was startled, quickly putting her phone face down on her chest.

“What are you looking at, âbji?”

“Oh, just trying to post some new pictures to my Instagram account. I want to show my followers that I’m active again and will soon have more material to post.”

“Let me see.” Zareen quickly snatched Adena’s phone from her hand before she could stop her, and said, leaning her head to one side, “Oh, you’re also stalking Kat’s account...maybe?

Adena sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “Yes, maybe.”

“When did she get her hair braided? She looks so pretty, no?”

“Zareen, give me back my phone and stop harassing me. I thought you were getting ready for your big work presentation tomorrow!” Adena shook her head and reached over, stealing back her phone.

“Calm down Adena, you are entitled to look at public photos on social media. Even of your pretty ex-girlfriend.”

- - - - -
The following morning after breakfast, Adena informed Zareen she had decided to travel south to the town of Erfoud, near the Sahara Desert. She wanted to spend the next month there photographing the local people and architecture.

“Sounds like a great adventure. Our house mate Abha’s uncle and aunt own a hostel there,” Zareen said. “I know they offer long-term lodging. You should inquire if they have rooms available. Abha can give you their phone number.”

Chapter Text

The trip from Marrakech to Erfoud took almost 12 hours in an air conditioned bus, with lengthy stops at two smaller towns along the way. The long journey gave Adena an opportunity to reflect on her life, career choice, and relationships. She had started writing her thoughts in a diary she purchased from a small stationary shop near the open market, and Kat was the subject of a lot of her entries. She felt journaling would help her heal from her devastating heartbreak. “Adena El-Amin, the great nomad, is back on yet another adventurous chapter of her young, adult life,” she wrote in the journal.

Disembarking at the Erfoud bus depot, Adena paid for a ride to take her to Abha’s relatives’ hostel. She had gotten in touch with them two days prior and secured a small bedroom for the next five weeks. The cab dropped Adena and her two bags off in front of the address. It was a no frills establishment, but she knew she’d be safe and centrally located in the city.

Once all settled in her new living quarters, Adena decided it was time to request her things from Kat. So, at 10:49 PM, she messaged her with her new address. She knew there was a five hour difference between New York City and Erfoud, So Kat was most likely leaving work when she received it. This was the first time she would attempt to communicate with Kat since the break up five weeks ago.

Adena:
Hi Kat
Here’s the address for you to mail my things- -

Ksar Erfoud, 52200 Erfoud, Morocco

Thank you. Take care.

Adena winced and fell back onto her bed knowing Kat would most likely see the message right away. She wondered what her reaction would be and set her phone to ‘Do not disturb’, turning off the lights. A few hours into her slumber, Adena had a very strange dream.

She dreamt she had gotten up to use the communal washroom and, as she exited her room, she heard a hypnotic tune in the distance. The music drew her towards an open door down the hall. There inside was a room lit with 100 candles and a violinist playing in the center. Adena waited for the man to finish and then asked, “Who are you?” The man simply smiled and pointed to another open door. He began playing again as Adena walked through the threshold to the second room. In that new room there was a large mosaic tile coffee table surrounded by floor pillows. On the table top there were more lit candles, empty Chinese food boxes, a tea kettle, and two ornate tea shotglasses. Adena looked down at her bare feet and the ground was covered in red rose petals. Suddenly startled by a knock on the door behind her, she turned around and saw Jane Sloan standing there in a Djellaba. “Kat wanted me to tell you she’s sorry she had to leave so soon, but...” Before she finished the sentence, Jane disappeared in a cloud of white smoke and Adena woke up from the dream. Staring at the clay ceiling of the moonlit room, her eyes swam with tears.

- - - - -
The next morning, Adena set out to go about her day like a tourist with a camera. She walked the city streets capturing stills of local people, animals, shops, restaurants, and nearby oases. Anxious to yet receive Kat’s response to her text, Adena kept her phone’s ringer on high so she wouldn’t miss any notifications. Throughout the day, she occasionally took the phone out of her leather satchel to check it. But the only messages were from Zareen and Firuze, checking in on her.

Wanting to photograph the detailed aluminum Moroccan lanterns that decorated the streets, and illuminated the gate of the Erfoud Royal Palace, Adena didn’t return home until after dark. Her feet ached and she was desperate for a warm bath. Once clean and reinvigorated, she settled in her bed and went over all the photos she had taken during the last 10 hours.

Adena spent a good two hours editing pictures on her laptop, but her vision grew blurry and she called it a night. Before powering down her computer, she chose a couple of the best scenes and posted them on her Instagram account with the caption, ”Ksar Erfoud”. She also muted her phone’s ringer and placed it on the nightstand next to her bed.

While Adena slept, at 2:11 AM, her cell phone lit up. Kat finally replied to her text.

Kat:
Ok

- - - - -
A week later Adena was eating lunch and decided to message Kat again about her boxes. She knew her parcels would take some time to arrive from New York, but she wanted to be able to track their status. Plus, she knew it was a good excuse to recontact Kat and see if she’d answer with more than one word.

Adena:
Do you have the tracking number on that box you sent?

This time Kat responded within a minute, to Adena’s astonishment. She almost spilled her orange juice as she rapidly reached for her phone that was face down on the dining room table.

Kat:
Sorry busy at work. Haven’t sent them yet.
Let you know info later

Adena:
Okay, no problem. But please do it soon, I need the camera equipment.
Thank you!

Adena nervously watched the three bubbles appear, showing Kat’s typing again.

Kat:
Ok

At bedtime, Adena went to Kat’s personal Instagram and scrolled through her postings. There were some new photos of Kat being silly in multi-colored sunglasses, captioned “50 Shades of...Me!” But the most surprising thing happened while she scrolled. She received notification that Kat had commented on one of her own postings. It was in reference to a five-week-old selfie of her and Kat in France, and Kat replied, “We’ll always have Paris”. Adena’s heart skipped a beat and she froze, peering at the photograph. Deciding to be bold, she replied to Kat, “Always”. She then turned on her side in bed, keeping her notifications and ringer on, and tucked her cellphone underneath her pillow. She knew it was wishful thinking, but she really wanted Kat to call her after seeing her reply. The room remained silent and soon Adena’s eyes became heavy with sleep.

- - - - -
The following day was uneventful for Aden. A large sandstorm blew in lofting heavy dust over the city all day long, making it unbearable to see and breath outside. So Adena spent the whole day in her room editing photos, writing in her journal, and updating her Instagram page. She also received a call from Firuze.

“Allo, my friend!”

“Allo Adena-joon! How is Morocco treating you?”

“Oh, very well. I’m finding so much inspiration and meeting so many interesting folks.” Adena said with a cheerful voice.

Firuze was so happy to hear Adena’s upbeat tone. “Wonderful! So I have gotten a couple of offers from different galleries here in New York for showings. The curators have specifically inquired about you and your possible work. Do you think you’ll be ready to show any art within the next two to three months?”

“Uh, I don’t really know yet, Firuze. I’m not ready to return to New York City...ummm, but I’ll keep it in mind?”

“That’s okay, Adena. I just wanted to touch base and see if perhaps you were ready. You just let me know when that time comes and I’ll set it all up. I’m also going to keep my eyes open for future opportunities that warrant ad hoc photographer services in town.”

“Thank you, thank you. You know this is why I care so much about you, Aziz-am.”

Adena And Firuze spoke for another 20 minutes about general things and said their farewells, allowing Adena to return to her work of photo editing for a few more hours.

Right before midnight, Adena’s phone vibrated with a notification that Kat had posted a new video. What she saw next filled her with great sadness. The video was of Kat, not wearing any makeup and crying. “This is the real me, heartbroken,” she said. She spoke about her heartache, grief, and how sorry she was of losing the only person she ever loved. She also acknowledged making mistakes in her relationship.

Kat’s video was raw and captioned #BeReal. Adena understood Kat was sending a message to her followers that it was okay to be honest and vulnerable with each other. She rewatched the video several times and broke down crying into her pillow, feeling guilty. It was the first time she felt Kat’s suffering and recognized they shared the same deep heartache. She realized Kat’s prior confident postings were just a façade to hide her real emotions. That night, the video released something inside Adena which made her more successful at coping with her own anguish.

Adena used every last fiber of her being to refrain from straightaway calling Kat or responding to the video online. However, an hour later she received another posting notification. This time it was a photo of Kat with a large package behind her. The caption read, “Sending my ex-girlfriend’s stuff back and all the pain that comes with it. #BeReal” This time Adena could not resist and responded by posting an old black-and-white selfie of her and Kat and typing, “It hursts me too. #BeReal”.

- - - - -
A couple of weeks after seeing Kat’s #BeReal video, Adena finally received her parcels and camera valise in the mail. While unpacking the items in her bedroom, she found Kat’s purple NYU hoodie amongst her clothing and scarfs. Adena always wore this sweatshirt around Kat’s loft at night when they were lounging, and she jokingly threatened to keep it forever. She didn’t know why Kat would send it.

“This must be a mistake, this isn’t mine.” She told Zareen over FaceTime, while donning the garment.

“You said it was your favorite thing of hers to wear, âbji. I think she wanted you to have it.”

Adena agreed with Zareen’s theory but did not admit it to her sister. “Well, I’m not going to ask her. So it’s mine now to keep.”

Zareen rolled her eyes and let out a loud sigh. “Have you called Maman? She keeps nagging me in her emails to remind you to call.”

“I know, I know. I’m going to call her right now when we are done.”

Adena blew a kiss at Zareen and disconnected their videocall. She put away all her newly acquired garments, took a deep breath, and decided it was time to call Maman and tell her about the break up.

“Why didn’t you phone me sooner and tell me?” Maman asked, while a Persian melody played in the background of her apartment.

With a shaky voice, Adena responded, “I know it doesn’t make sense, Maman. But I had not called because if I told you, it would be real. I wasn’t ready to make it real.”

“Dokhtaram, a broken heart won’t make sense now, but heartbreak will make you wiser some day.”

Chapter Text

Adena’s daily routine didn’t really change. She left late mornings every day to explore different parts of the city. If there were new events happening, such as the date palm festival, Adena would attend and take photographs. She had started regularly posting pictures back on her Instagram account, AdenaPhoto, making her followers happy to have her back online. “Adena dear, we thought you’d disappeared off the face of the earth! We’re glad you’re back,” one artist friend commented. And, “Aah, la grande artiste mademoiselle El-Amin is back with her magic,” a gallery owner from Versailles wrote.

She continued her daily surveillance of Kat’s Instagram for her own emotional reasons. One particular post made her melancholy, in which Kat posted the lesbian bar they frequented, Wild Susan’s, was closing down for city development of condominiums. Kat noted, “City officials want to gentrify the neighborhood, thus pushing our beloved bar out of business”. In opposition, Kat had convinced Scarlet to host a queer prom at the venue. Apparently, it would serve as a charity event to raise funds to save the bar. Adena grinned proudly as she read this part of the post.

- - - - -
As her time in Erfaud was coming to an end, Adena bought a bus ticket to return to Marrakech and Zareen’s place. It was the middle of December, and although the temperature remained mild, it was a cool 15 degrees Celsius outside. Adena phoned her sister at work to tell her the good news.

Zareen looked up from her microscope as her phone rang with a melodic tune. “Allo Adena, how is it in the Sahara Desert?”

“Allo petite soeur! Just calling to let you know my plans. I will be returning to you tomorrow night. My work here is done and I’ve gathered sooo much material for my showings that I’m very satisfied.”

“Oh, you don’t know how content that makes me, grande soeur! I can’t wait to have you back.”

Adena was back on the omnibus early the next morning heading north to Marrakech. Zareen met her late at night at the bus depot and they hailed a cab together.

“I saw some of the most amay...zing things, âbji.” Adena gestures with her hands in the air. “You’re going to love the souvenirs I brought you.”

“Oooh, are you hiding a handsome male suitor in your luggage for me?” Zareen jested and elbowed Adena’s side.

“Ha! No, unfortunately they did not have those for sale in the charming Erfaud shops. But I did bring you something just as good.”

“Oh, is it like the toy you brought me last year, the one that got you arrested by the Teheran police?” Zareen covered her face shyly with her hand and giggled.

“Uh, no. None of that for you this time. I bought you some fossils and two new scarfs. I think you’re going to love them.”

The girls arrived at the house and paid the driver, lugging Adena’s bags into the property and to their room.

“Oh soeur, I love my gifts. These fossils are intriguing and I will display them on my desk at work. Oh, and the scarfs are of such delicate and beautiful fabric. You always get my taste and style.”

Adena pulled out several jars and bags of edibles and handed them to her sister. “Merci! I’ve known you for 24 years, Zareen. By now I can read you like a book. “Those are tasty sweet dates and olives I purchased to share with your housemates.”

- - - - -
Two weeks after her return to Marrakech, Adena contacted her artist friend Odette, informing her she’s flying back to Paris and is ready to show her work.

“Yes, yes I’m very excited too. If you can secure that studio loft for me in the art gallery district, I’ll be forever grateful Odette.”

The call disconnected and Adena continued packing her things for France. After an hour she decided to take a breather and opened up Instagram. “Oh wow, Kat’s running for City Council?” She questions out loud.

“Who are you talking to, crazy girl?” Zareen strolled in and asked with her face contorted.

“I’m checking in on Kat and look what she’s posted.” Adena hands her phone over to her sister.

“Well, that’s unexpected. Does she like politics?”

“Not particularly. But she is big on trending social issues and cheering for the underdog. So good for her. She will make a positive impact if she wins.”

“Are you going to send a congratulations? I think you should show her your support.”

“Oh, no, no, no! Is okay.” Adena took back her phone, rapidly shaking her head and crossing her arms. “Kat doesn’t need my support or approval. She’s a big girl.”

- - - - -
The following afternoon, Adena bid her sister goodbye. They made plans for Zareen to visit Paris once Adena was settled in. Back in the air and on her way north to Paris, the City of Lights and heartbreak for her, Adena wrote in her diary and listened to music. Arriving three hours later, Odette met her at the gate with a big hug and a bouquet of daffodils.

Odette was a stocky-built, 45-year-old women Adena had met six years prior, at an artist’s retreat. She was also an acquaintance of Coco’s, as she had managed Coco’s parents’ galleries for many years. She knew of Adena and Coco’s tumultuous relationship and was happy they had dissolved their union. She had heard Adena was dating a new attractive American, but didn’t know a lot of details about that, except that Adena was now single again.

“Welcome back, old friend. So good to hold you again!”

“Thank you so much, Odette. I really appreciate all you are doing for me. And the flat you secured for me looks very nice in your emails.”

“Well, I hope it’s to your liking when we see it in person. Come, let’s get your luggage and a ride to the flat.”

The two women exited Charles de Gaulle airport and were met with a cold January breeze. The chilled air swept through Odette’s short chestnut colored hair and made Adena’s long skirt move like it was alive.

“Brrrr, I hope you brought a warm coat, Adena.”

- - - - -
Although a bit small, the studio was a great place to stay. It was steps away from cafes, pubs and shops, and had everything Adena needed, including a comfy double bed, a large tub-shower combination, and a laundry washing machine in the kitchen. The nearest metro station was just a five minute walk away, and the rest of Paris was reachable by metro or the bus line outside the building.

The landlord, Laurent, graciously accommodated Adena in her new rental. “So excited to have you stay here, Adena. My wife and I are fans of your artwork.”

“Oh thank you so much, and for the towels And kitchenware. I’m going to be fine.”

“Anything else you need, we’re two doors down. Do you think you’ll stay longer than the four months you’ve reserved? We’d love to have you long term.”

“I’m not really making any long term commitments in Paris, but I will definitely stay here if I do decide more time is needed. Thank you again, Laurent. Give my best to your wife and newborn baby.”

- - - - -
It was a brisk February morning and a light powder of snow covered the sidewalks of the city. A content Adena has had two showings at different art galleries near her apartment, and today was her free day to be lazy. She woke and sat up in her warm bed, yawning and stretching her arms. Then shuffled barefoot over the cool wood floor to use her bathroom.

In the kitchen she made herself coffee in her French press and then picked up her cellphone to go through emails, texts, and social media. There was one particular email that caught her attention. It was a group massage from Odette inviting everyone to a new lesbian club in town. The pub advertised good priced drinks and tapas. They also promoted local girl bands, and tonight a band named ‘Dame IV’ was scheduled to play. “Mmmm, sounds like fun,” she mumbled.

Adena replied to the group agreeing to meet them at the club later at 9 o’clock. For now, she crawled back into bed with her coffee and a croissant, opening up Netflix on her laptop.

- - - - -
The apartment’s doorbell rang and startled Adena. She felt a bit disoriented for a few seconds, then realized she had fallen asleep watching a documentary on her laptop, and the brass wall clock read 3:05 PM. “Coming!” Adena yelled and hopped out of bed rushing to the door.

Looking through the peep hole she saw a woman. “Salut, sorry to bother you but Laurent forgot to give you the key to your mailbox downstairs. I am his wife, Inga.”

“Pleased to meet you, Inga. I am Adena. Would you like to come inside?” Adena shook her hand and gestured, welcoming her inside.

“No, no. My daughter is napping and I took a minute to bring your key. I must return quickly. Perhaps next time.”

“Okay, merci.”

“Merci.”

Adena closed the door and heard her phone, somewhere in her bed, vibrating with a notification. She had trouble finding it under the down comforter, but soon unlocked it to see a text from Kat.

Kat:
Hey. How are u doing?

Sitting down cross legged on the bed with her heart racing, she responded.

Adena:
Hey. I’m well. And you?

Kat:
Oh just cold as hell. The furnace in our building is acting up.

Adena:
Well, then shouldn’t you be the opposite, hot?

Kat:
Huh??

Adena:
You said “cold as hell” but hell is supposed to be a very hot place, no?

Adena waited for Kat’s response and could see the three typing bubbles moving.

Kat:
LOL! Yeah, then I’m cold as the North Pole.

Adena:
:)

Kat:
Just wanted to say hi and make sure you got your boxes.

Adena:
Yeah, everything’s good. I’m actually now in Paris. Came back a month ago.

Kat:
Yeah, I saw your posting by the Arc de Triomphe.

There was an awkward pause and Adena couldn’t think what else to say.

Kat:
Well, I’m glad you are safe and fine. I actually have to go. Bye.

Adena:
You too. Bye.

Adena froze in place as she gripped her cellphone and her mouth curved into a smile. She was pleased that Kat took the initiative to reach out and opened that door for them. Just then, her stomach grumbled and she headed to the kitchen for a meal. Afterwards, stripping for a needed shower, she reminisced about her time in Peru with Kat. She squeezed her eyes shut and touched herself in the shower.

Wrapped in a towel and fresh from her wash, Adena stood in front of a full-length mirror that hung in her small walk-in closet. She gazed at her image and liked what she saw. She was finally getting lots of uninterrupted sleep at night, had her appetite back, and no longer had a sad, tired expression on her face. Four months after the Paris Fashion Week breakup with Kat, Adena was feeling herself, again.

She dropped the towel on the floor and got dressed for the lesbian club date with her Parisian friends.

Chapter Text

Adena walked the six blocks from the metro station to the pub with a spring in her step. The sidewalks of Paris were always filled with nightlife, so she felt safe walking alone in the dark. Reaching the address, Adena’s face glowed with the green and red hues of the marquee. The surrounding cache of neon lightbulbs identified the place as ‘La Femme Fatale’, and Adena pushed through the establishment doors.

The large venue was smokey and loud, filled with a mix of women of all sizes and ages. Some dressed in over-the-top crop tops, pearls, fishnet stockings, and fuck me pumps. These girls also wore loud eyeliner and bright red lipstick. Others were more subdued,shyly-awkward, and looked very uncomfortable. It was definitely a motley crew.

Adena wore a simple ebony colored hijab, with a white crochet mesh sweater exposing her indigo blue bralette underneath, skinny torn black jeans, and black embroidered Doc Marten boots. She had slipped off her brass button jean jacket, holding it in her arms. As she made her way through the clamorous crowds, a patron uttered, “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

“Adena dear, we’re over here!” Odette yelled and waved from a booth nearby. As Adena waved back and made her way to her group of friends, she chuckled to herself and thought, ‘This was a real lesbian bar, intimidating as heck but a mecca for meeting girls’.

“Hey woman, long time no see!” A rambunctious Valeree said, as she hugged and kissed Adena’s cheeks. “You, of course, already know my beautiful wife Odette. And these are my two friends from work, Esmée and Antoinette. And, on the end is Esmée’s date, Tenshi.”

“Hello everyone, happy to meet you.” Adena bowed her head and smiled. “Odette, thank you for including me tonight.”

“Well, of course Adena. We love having you. And, tonight I’m on a mission to find you a sexy, affectionate new girlfriend,” Odette replied with a hug and boisterous laugh.

- - - - -
For the next hour, the group of women ate tapas, drank, and shared personal stories of their coming out and their first visit to a lesbian bar. Everyone’s stories were different, and similar at the same time, and they roared with laughter. Valeree snapped a group picture with her phone and posted it on her FaceBook account, tagging everyone including Adena.

By 10 o’clock the pub owner, a stocky middled aged butch woman, announced the featured band ‘Dame IV’, and they took the stage to play. They were an alternative music band and their original tunes had an eclectic sound. Adena really liked their songs and found herself entranced by some of the lyrics. She sat in her seat swaying her shoulders to one particular song as she locked eyes several times with the bass player. After playing numerous songs, the lead singer broadcasted that they’d be taking a short break and the DJ would fill in their gap.

Adena watched as the four band members abandoned their instruments and stepped off the stage. She caught the bass player staring at her again, but then shyly looked away towards her group of friends. “Adena dear, I think one of the musicians has taken a liking to you,” Valeree teased and patted her back.

Adena finished her club soda, excusing herself and heading towards the ladies room. As she finished and exited the washroom, she bumped into the four band members in the long, narrow hallway. They were huddled together talking and laughing. “Excuse me,” Adena politely motioned with her hand to get past them.

The group parted and Adena started to walk in between them. “Hi, would you like a hit from my juul?” The lead singer of the band offered.

Pausing momentarily to look the woman in the eye and shrugging her shoulders, she replied, “No thank you, I don’t smoke.”

The bass player took a swig from her beer bottle and then asked if she could buy her an alcoholic beverage. With a half-smile and a shake of her head, Adena replied, “Sorry, I don’t drink either.”

“Man, you’re no fun! You don’t smoke nor drink. What wondrous will power you have.” The drummer proclaimed, giving Adena a once-over.

The fourth member, who was a dead giveaway for a young Joan Jett, lit a cigarette taking a long drag, then blew out the smoke. “I wish I never started smoking. Now tobacco owns my ass,” she said with a huff. “It’ll be the death of me someday, I know.”

The bassist butted in again, “Wilma, let her be, she’s not full of vices like we are.” She motioned to Adena with her head, “Come on, I’ll walk you back to your table and away from this rowdy bunch. “I’m Greta, Greta Von Stein, by the way.” The girl wiped her hand on her pant leg and extended it forward.

Adena shook her hand as they walked. “I’m Adena El-Amin. Nice to meet you.”

“Well here’s your seat, belle fille.”

Adena rolled her eyes and the corners of her mouth quirked up, “Merci.”

- - - - -
The Dame IV played all night long. They mostly played popular songs from other artists, but on occasion they added their own material. Adena left her seat a few times to join her friends on the dance floor. All the while Greta watched her closely, giving her sultry looks. At 2 AM the band stopped playing and the pub owner announced the place was closing for business. As the crowd slowly dissipated, Greta approached Adena’s group holding her guitar case.

“Hey Adena, would you like to go get some fresh air outside and cool off? I can walk you to the metro or maybe get a cab together?”

This time Adena responded favorably to Greta’s request. “Okay, I’d like that. I’m going to take the metro home.” Adena put on her jacket and hugged her friends goodbye. Greta’s friends waved and winked from a distance, as Adena lead them both out of the pub.

- - - - -
Outside the temperature had dropped a few degrees, looking like it might start snowing soon. The girls strolled together towards the metro station and could see their breaths when they spoke. They passed by a group of young people smoking weed, and Greta made a joke about taking in a deep breath. Adena chuckled and liked her sense of humor.

“So, have you been in Paris all your life? Adena is a beautiful name, by the way.”

“Thank you. No. I’m actually born in Iran. I left at 17 and have spent my years after that traveling the world. I lived in Paris four years straight, then alternated between New York City and Paris the last two.” Adena turned towards Greta, “And, you?”

“Oh, you can probably tell by my name and slight accent that I’m German. I was born in Frankfurt but grew up in Berlin. After secondary school I decided to attend the university in Paris, then secured a job as a Translator for the French Embassy. I’ve worked there for seven years now.”

“Ooh, very impressive. A translator by day and musician by night.” Adena said with an amused smile.

“Ha, ha! I guess. Playing with my friends in a band is a fun way to blow off steam and get to know different gay clubs around Paris. It’s not a job that pays my bills. My friend Danae, the lead singer, and I started the band while we were in graduate school. I’m also a rock climber, archer, and marathon runner. What do you do professionally, Adena?”

“Wow, you keep yourself so busy. I’m a photographer and sometimes painter. I took nine years of piano and cello lessons, but I’ve been away from both instruments, too long. I go on an occasional jog, but that’s the extent of my exercise. I’ve been busy these past two months with gallery showings. This is my first night out in a while for pleasure.”

While Greta continued talking, Adena used the opportunity to study her walking buddy. She found her very attractive, with honey-blonde, shoulder length hair and ocean blue eyes. She was lean, but muscular, and a bit taller than Adena. Greta was wearing long sleeves underneath her bomber jacket, but Adena had observed earlier that she had a cross tattoo on her left wrist. She walked with a bit of a bouncy gait and had a nice smile.

Upon reaching the metro, Greta became bold and invited Adena to her place to continue their conversation. Surprising herself, just as much as Greta, Adena agreed. And the girls took the green-line to Greta’s loft apartment.

Chapter Text

“Bienvenue Adena, please feel free to relax.” Turning on the kitchen overhead light and dropping off her guitar case and jacket in a hall closet, Greta opened her refrigerator and turned to Adena, “Would you like...uhm...a sparkling water or grapefruit juice?”

Adena looked in her fridge, “Perrier is good for me, thank you.”

Greta slipped off her boots, pouring two glasses of the cool liquid and invited Adena to sit on her futon. The loft was very industrial looking but not too small, since it had higher ceilings. It had a metal spiral staircase leading to a second floor above the kitchen area. From below, one could see there was a bed and dresser upstairs.

Adena stood for a few minutes observing her surroundings carefully. The only artwork she saw on the walls were three framed posters. The first was a black-and-white of 60’s rock star Janis Joplin, the second of the 80’s band Berlin, and the third read, ‘1918 Tour de Paris’ and had a drawing of a woman running, with the name Marie-Louise Ledru curving around her torso. The living area was simple, a green futon, a hammock chair that hung from a metal beam at the ceiling, a wooden trunk turned coffee table, a small desk, and a tall mirror leaning against the wall next to the futon. There were five candles on top of the coffee table that sat amidst a pool of dried wax and had seen better days, and an old photo album laying next to them.

“Ledru is believed to be the first French woman to perform in the ‘Tour de Paris’. She was quite the trendsetter...and...I thought the poster was pretty lit when I saw it in a bookstore,” Greta said.

Adena took a sip from her glass and nodded in agreement. She sat down next to Greta, unlaced and removed her boots, and took off her jacket. Gesturing towards the scarlet-colored book by the candles, “Do you mind if I look through your album?”

“Not at all, go ahead Adena.” Greta studied Adena’s face as she reached for the book on the trunk, tracing her profile with her eyes.

Adena opened the album and saw there were many pages full of photographs. Some black and white, but most in color.

Greta pointed, “Those are my grandparents when they got married in 1957. And, that’s mum and dad at their own nuptials with their respective families. They are both goals.”

Adena turned more pages and came upon some cute baby pictures and a blonde little girl. “This must be you,” she cooed.

“Yes, that’s me. And there I am in the buff playing in the sand. Ha! It wasn’t a nudist beach but guess my mum decided I was too cute to wear my clothes,” she giggled. “Oh...and there’s my little brother and older sister in that other photo. Yes, I suffer from the awkward middle child syndrome, never enough love and attention,” Greta joked. But in a hushed tone she added, “Still looking for somebody to fix that.”

Adena looked up at Greta and her eyebrows rose. Greta swallowed hard giving a mesmerizing look, then shifted her eyes down to Adena’s mouth. She reached over and softly passed her thumb over Adena’s dimpled chin and up to her full lips. “You are so beautiful. Can I kiss you?”

“Yes...please.” Adena closed her eyes as Greta slowly inched her face closer to hers. Greta paused and hovered over her lips for a few seconds, gently pulling Adena closer by the nape of her neck, until their lips pressed together in a lazy kiss.

The kiss felt like heaven to Adena, who hadn’t been physical with anyone for months. Greta’s breath was warm and she tasted like the mint gum she had chewed on the walk to the metro station. Both girls reeked like a combination of perfume and nicotine from the pub. But it couldn’t be helped, and at least they canceled each other out.

Suddenly, Adena broke the kiss. “Can I use your washroom real quick?”

“Yes, yes of course. It’s right past the kitchen through the closed door,” Greta pointed nervously.

Adena closed the photo album, placing it back on the coffee table and she disappeared into the bathroom. She locked the door behind her, taking a good long look at herself in the vanity mirror. “Okay Adena, you got this babe,” she whispered to herself, taking some deep breaths to calm her nerves. She took a folded washcloth out of a shelf on the wall and washed up a bit.

Greta took the opportunity to go look at herself in the living room mirror. She got a clean rag from her closet and moistened it in the kitchen sink, wiping away most of her makeup and sweat from her face. “Well, that’s as good as it gets for now,” she mumbled. She lit all five candles and turned off the bright kitchen overhead light. It seemed a bit too dark, so she walked over and turned on the small tabletop lamp on her desk. She felt the room was dim but comfortable, so she finished her glass of mineral water and sat back down, waiting for Adena to return.

- - - - -
A good ten minutes passed before Greta heard the lock on the bathroom door un-click. Adena walked out with her hair down and hijab removed. She laid the folded silky black scarf and bobby-pins on the coffee table directly in front of Greta, who seemed hypnotized by Adena’s beauty. “Hi.” Adena said in a breathy tone with a sparkle in her eyes.

“Hi, you.” Greta said feeling a blush in her cheeks, reaching for Adena’s hips and gently pulling her closer.

Adena straddled Greta’s lap and wrapped her arms around her neck, leaning in and locking their lips together once again. The kiss began slow and light but soon deepened, and all the passion started spilling over. Greta’s hands started to wonder up Adena’s back, to her hair and face. Breathing became labored and their hearts pounded in their chests like loud drums.

“Do you...d-do you want...to go upstairs to my bed?” Greta asked, panting in Adena’s mouth.

“Okay...yes...yes.” Adena panted back, and stood up off of Greta’s lap. Greta rose and took Adena’s hand and led her up the spiral staircase.

Adena noticed the bedroom was as equally sparse as the downstairs, with only a large mattress on a platform on the floor, a wall shelf for a nightstand, a small dresser, and a standing lamp with a rainbow colored shade. There was also a closet with a makeshift door made out of a beaded curtain.

Greta released Adena’s hand, walking over to the shelf and lighting two candles by the bed, then another rather large candle on top of her dresser. ‘She’s really into mood lighting’, Adena thought. She then sat on the mattress with her legs spread facing Adena. Greta’s expression left no doubt what she was thinking. She reached out and Adena walked over and stood between her legs. Greta looked up and held Adena’s gaze while she grabbed her own shirt, slipping it off over her head. She wasn’t wearing a bra and Adena let out a quiet gasp, as Greta took Adena’s hands and cupped them over her chest.

Adena noticed her lover had some more tattoos on her upper torso and a pierced nipple. As Adena brushed Greta’s breasts with open palms, Greta grasped her shoulders and pulled her on top, falling back onto the mattress. Now Adena straddled her once again, like downstairs on the futon. Both women couldn’t take their eyes off each other, and the mood was suddenly more intimate and deeper than before.

“Is it okay if I take off your sweater and bra, Adena?” Adena didn’t answer and just preceded to slip both items off, tossing them to the floor.

The look on Greta’s face was priceless as she feasted on the beauty above her. “Oh god...Adena, you are the most gorgeous women I’ve ever been with. How did I get so lucky.” Adena just answered with a wink and devious smirk. Greta took ahold of Adena’s waist and flipped their positions. The skin-to-skin contact boosted her sexual arousal, making her flushed and feeling high. She began to kiss down Adena’s neck, across her shoulder, to her chest. Taking her time gently savoring each of her breasts. Adena tried to contain her moans as long as possible but soon it became futile, and she groaned loudly, arching her back and clutching at Greta’s hair and the sheets for support.

Greta eventually came back up with open mouth kisses and latched onto Adena’s mouth, using her tongue in a seductive manner. She broke their kiss and stared into Adena’s eyes whispering, “Do you like it soft or do you want me rough?”

Adena knew what that meant and answered with bedroom eyes, “Rough.” She hadn’t been intimate with another woman in four months and her lust filled brain clouded her judgment, pushing her desire for sex into overdrive.

Greta gave her a quick peck on the lips and started licking her way down her sternum, down her stomach, around, and in her belly button, until she hit the material on Adena’s jeans. Swiftly, she jumped out of bed and pushed her own jeans and underwear off, revealing a large tattoo on her right thigh. She crawled back to Adena, unbuttoned and carefully removed her pants. Then separately removed her lacy blue panties using her teeth at first, then finished with her hands. She pried Adena’s thighs open and laid between her legs, nipping, licking, and sucking at the soft, sensitive skin inside both thighs, while raking her nails up and down her torso. Adena’s hips raised and lowered as she moaned loudly. “Oh...you are so sexy, Adena!”

Greta dedicated a lot of time on the inside of her thighs, and Adena finally gasped and begged her for more with a cry, “Please...please! I can’t wait anymore!” Squeezing the pillow with one hand, and grabbing the loose sheets around her with the other, Adena finally felt Greta giving her what she so desired, and her eyes relaxed, rolling back into her head as she climaxed.

- - - - -
Greta was very good in bed and Adena was rewarded multiple times during the night with the rush of pleasure. The flames from the bedroom candles flickered a golden hue on their naked torsos and, although the loft was cool, their bodies glistened with sweat as they panted and moaned loudly in unison. Adena was also very adept and giving in bed, as Greta soon found out while her legs trembled and her muscles contracted in gratification.

As both girls felt satiated and exhausted, Adena laid her head on Greta’s chest, who softly ran her fingers through her messy locks. The room was silent now with only the occasional hum of the furnace when it kicked on. Before falling asleep, the girls took turns using the bathroom one more time. “I have an extra new toothbrush and towel for you downstairs, Adena. I’ve left them on top of the washroom sink. There’s also a robe behind the door you can wear back upstairs, if you like.”

Watching as a nude Greta spoke and walked back to bed, Adena sat up. “Thank you for being so kind and thoughtful, Greta. I’m going to go use them now.”

Adena went downstairs and took care of business. As she exited the bathroom headed back up, she stopped to grab her cellphone out of her jacket pocket to bring upstairs. Her phone suddenly vibrated in her hand with an incoming message. It was Kat liking the FaceBook photo Valeree had tagged her in earlier, at the lesbian pub.

Chapter Text

In the candle lit living room Adena stood frozen, staring down at her phone screen clenched in her palm. She had been affected so much by Kat’s simple action of ‘liking’ the pub photo, that her stomach began to churn and hurt, and she felt remorseful for being with Greta. “Why do you do this to me? I haven’t done anything wrong, Kat. Get outta my head!” She muttered under her breath, glaring at the ‘thumbs up’ icon by Kat Edison. She felt very angry at Kat, but mostly at herself. She shook herself out of her sudden trance, slipped her phone in the robe’s pocket and climbed to the bedroom.

Walking back to bed, the weight of her guilt set in. She stood next to Greta, who had her eyes closed, and thought. Slipping out of the robe, she decided to collect her clothes and announce she must leave. “I’m sorry, I just have to get home. I have a late-morning appointment,” Adena fibbed holding her undergarments. But her nose began to run and betrayed her, causing her to sniff some tears back to keep them from dripping out.

Greta was very surprised by the sudden change in her lover’s mood and sat up. She offered, in a panicked tone, “Hey please, you’re welcome to stay the night. Let me make you breakfast later.” She heard Adena sniffling and pulled at her hand softly to sit on the bed, then pivoted to the tall lamp, turning it on. Looking into Adena’s wet eyes, she asked, “Was I that bad? Because I thought I heard you express contentment three or four times, earlier.” Greta teased to lighten the mood, but Adena didn’t react.

With eyebrows narrowed, trying to find the answer to Adena’s somber demeanor, she questioned again, “Was I...your first woman?” Adena silently shook her head no and dropped her gaze. “Okay...I didn’t think so, or else you are an extraordinarily fast learner, my dear.” Greta said, using her finger tips to lift Adena’s chin back up to meet her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Greta, you don’t deserve this.” Adena, now dressed in her panties and bra, reclined back down on the bed besides Greta. “You were great, I have no complaints.” Adena looked towards her with a forced a smile.

“The feeling is mutual,” Greta replied, kissing Adena’s shoulder.

There was a long period of silence between the two, and Greta thought hard while studying her lover’s face. She put her arm around Adena’s back and turned her gently to face her. “What’s her name, Adena?”

Adena looked down at the bed and pursed her lips together. “Oh, is it that obvious?” Greta didn’t respond and just waited patiently for more.

Adena turned over flat on her back and glanced up at the ceiling, wiping her eyes as she spoke. “I broke up with her four months ago. She’s in New York. I thought I was doing much better emotionally.” Turning again to face Greta, “You are the first person I’ve been with since that breakup.” A stray tear escaped her eye and rolled down her cheek, onto the pillow.

Greta reached over with a light touch and held her face, thinking about what to say. “You don’t have to feel guilty about still being enamored with her, Adena.”

“I was fine tonight, until I looked at my cellphone just now and saw she ‘liked’ a stupid photo I’m in. It’s not like I’m cheating on her. I’m free now. But, it just brought an avalanche of suppressed emotions out of me. “I’m sorry!” Adena squeezed her eyes shut and covered her mouth with her fingertips of her hand.

“Hey!...Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself.” Greta pulled Adena’s hand away from her mouth. “You got your heartbroken. There’s no expiration on heartbreak. You are not ready to move on yet, I get that.” Adena shook her face, as her chin dimpled and her lip quivered.

Greta pulled Adena forward into her arms, “Come here, let me hold you beautiful girl.”

- - - - -
Adena let Greta hold her for a bit, but then moved back to her side of the bed. “I’m going to get dressed and call a cab.”

Greta felt a bit hurt, but then gave her an out. “That’s alright, I know you mentioned you’re very busy with your art these days. So I understand you wanting to go home and get some rest.”

Adena appreciated her understanding and got dressed. Greta got up too and wore the robe from the floor, heading downstairs with Adena. While walking barefoot towards her boots, Adena stepped on a sharp bottle cap that was lying partially underneath the futon, cutting her foot.

“Ouch! “Oh no, I’m sorry. I’m bleeding on your wood floor.”

“Oh gosh, I lost that cap the other night and couldn’t find it. I’m so sorry, Adena. Here, sit down and let me clean and bandage that up.”

Greta returned from the washroom with a small plastic box. She sat down on the futon, lifted Adena’s leg up and laid her foot on top of her own lap. She got Adena’s foot cleaned and bandaged while Adena observed her work.

“You have many talents,” Adena stated and they shared a chuckle.

“My parents are both hospital nurses and taught us well. I’ve become an expert at mending cuts through the years. Especially with rock climbing, I have had some nasty cuts and abundant scrapes. See all these scars on my shins and knees are evidence of that,” Greta pointed down.

Unexpectedly, Greta felt a vibration coming from her robe pocket. She reached in and pulled out Adena’s phone. “Oh, you left this in here when you wore this upstairs.”

“Yes...thank you.” Adena ignored a new comment from Kat on Valeree’s FaceBook picture post, and Greta pretended not to have seen it.

- - - - -
Greta got dressed and called Adena a cab, accompanying her to the curbside, waiting for the ride together. It was 4:15 AM and very cold outside. Their breaths blew smoke as they talked.

Hugging Greta warmly, Adena said, “Thank you, thank you for everything. For having me over, for mending my cut, for calling me a cab and freezing here with me.” Greta let out a small laugh. “And, especially for...listening to me and being so understanding. You are a very sweet girl.”

Greta released Adena from the hug and peered into her tired eyes. “Adena, I’d like to see you again, if the feeling is mutual.”

The women could see a cab turning the corner of the street, heading towards them. “Okay, let me enter my number in your phone.”

Reaching for Greta’s cellular, Adena tapped in her number, then called herself to have Greta’s contact, too. The driver pulled up and Adena kissed Greta on both cheeks and said goodbye. Greta stood on the sidewalk watching until the car disappeared in the frosty night. “Goodbye, beautiful girl,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

When Adena arrived at home, she peeled off all her clothes and hijab in front of her bed, leaving them in a messy pile on the floor, crawling under her blanket and duvet without a care. It was almost 5 AM and she was spent physically and emotionally, all she wanted was sleep.

Adena slept through noisy street traffic, neighbors hollering in the hallway, babies wailing, and dogs barking through thin walls. Nothing could wake her from her deep slumber. Her phone buzzing continuously around seven in the evening was what finally brought her back into consciousness.

It was dark out now, and the only light in her flat came from the microwave’s flickering ‘12:00’ clock-display. Hanging her body off the side of the mattress, and digging for her cellphone in her jacket, Adena swiped her phone screen and spoke with a gravelly voice. “Yes?!” She was feeling very groggy and disoriented as she heard a voice on the other end.

“Allo, grande soeur!”

“Uhhh, allo Zareen,” Adena replied, holding her head as she felt a stabbing migraine over one of her eyes.

“Are you staying out of trouble? I saw you finally decided to leave your hermit ways behind and go out to a nightclub with your Parisian friends.”

“Uuugh, have a mentioned how much I HATE social media!”

“Ha, ha! It’s the only way Maman and I can keep track of you. Why does your voice sound so hoarse?! Were you already settled in bed sleeping, so early?”

“I just have an awful headache. What time is it?”

“Ummm, it’s seven, cranky old lady.”

“Leave me alone, Zareen. Why did you call, to harass me?”

“Yes, and no. I called to give you some good news. My employer is sending me to Paris in two weeks, to the four day Pandemic Diseases Conference.”

“Hmmm, sounds...contagious.”

“Very funny! You’re not excited to see your petite soeur? Anyhow, you have no choice in the matter, and I’m saving my department some money by staying at your apartment. I arrive Saturday, February 15th in the morning. So buy me lot’s of those buttermilk French chocolate bonbons and sweet eclairs I love.”

“Sounds like a plan, Zareen. Message me all the details and I can meet you at the airport.”

The siblings got off the phone and Adena got up to use the bathroom, eat a sandwich, and take migraine medication. She brushed her teeth and went back to sleep.

- - - - -
It was a beautiful Sunday morning and, after having slept almost 24 hours, Adena woke up very early feeling refreshed and headache free. After morning prayers and coffee, she felt really grimy and jumped in a warm shower, washing her hair and the last two days away. Wrapped in a big towel, she walked into her closet to dress. When she dropped her towel in front of the mirror, she saw her inner thighs were covered in bruises and there were scratches down her sides and back. She huffed out a laugh through her nose, saying, “Greta.” She dressed in leggings, the purple NYU hoodie, and her fury slippers. At her bedside table, she retrieved her phone.

Adena:
Hi :)

The three typing bubbles almost immediately came on her screen.

Greta:
Well hello! How is life treating you?

Adena:
Pretty well, I’d say ;)

Greta:
;)

Adena:
Would you be free this morning? I’m ready to collect on that breakfast you owe me.

Greta:
Oh? Yes, yes I’m free. I was just about to leave for a jog. So why don’t you give me your address and I’ll jog over.
Then we can jog someplace to eat.

Adena:
So...you’re going to make me work for my meal?

Greta:
You can say that. Or, you can say that I’m looking after your health. You can pay me another way later ;)

Adena paused thinking of how to answer that last comment, and Greta quickly responded again.

Greta:
I’m sorry, I was just trying to be funny. Yeah...send me your address. You mentioned you lived just south of me?

Adena:
You don’t need to apologize. I’m sending you the information now. See you in a bit?

Adena messaged back all her information and went to dry her hair and put on some eyeliner and lipgloss. Twenty minutes later, Greta was ringing her downstairs buzzard. “Hey come on up, I’m on the third floor, 3C,” Adena spoke into the wall intercom.

A minute later there was a melodic ‘shave and a haircut’ pattern knock on the front door. Looking through her peep hole to confirm it was Greta, Adena decided to have a little fun with her.

“Allo, who is it?!” She yelled.

“It’s Greta, remember silly!”

“Sorry, I don’t know a Greta. You have the wrong apartment!” Adena chortled like a child behind her door.

There was dead silence outside the door. “Allo?!” Adena looked through her peep hole again, but didn’t see Greta anymore. She thought her little joke backfired and Greta left to go ring her from outside, again. Throwing the sweatshirt’s hood over her head, Adena hustled out her apartment door to try and stop her at the stairs. Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed her waist and pushed her backwards. Greta was hiding out of sight waiting for the ambush. She bent down and put Adena over her shoulder, carrying her back inside the flat and slamming the door shut with her foot.

“Ayeeeee! Put me down you brute!” Adena screeched and giggled.

“Oh you’re going down alright!” Greta yelled back, and threw Adena on top of her bed. She hovered over her on all fours, pushing her down into the mattress and tickling her until Adena begged for mercy. Greta stopped and longingly looked into Adena’s dark eyes. “Hello beautiful girl.”

Adena responded by gently caressing her face with both hands and pulling her down for a soft peck on the lips.

“Now that’s a proper hello.” Greta said with a smile as she stood up and offered Adena a hand. “Come, give me le grande tour of this place.”

- - - - -
After showing Greta around her small apartment, Adena wrapped her hair in a gray camo hijab and put on her running shoes. The two headed out to Adena’s favorite nearby café for breakfast.

As they were enjoying their morning meal, Adena told Greta the good news. “My little sister Zareen is coming to visit in two weeks from Morocco. I’m picking her up Saturday the 15th at 11 am at Charles de Gaulle. She’s coming for a work conference but will be staying with me. I’d love for you to meet her. She can be a pain in the butt, but she’s a lot of fun.”

“Aren’t all little sisters a pain in the butt? I’m pretty sure my older sister has called me that once or twice....daily.” Greta crossed and uncrossed her eyes acting silly. “But, sure, I’d love to meet Zareen. Uh...does she know about me?”

“Ah, no. Not yet. But I’ll introduce you. She will love you, I’m sure. You both have a similar sense of humor.”

Greta held her right arm high in the air holding out her index finger. “Well then, little sisters UNITE!” This caused Adena to throw her head back and do a belly laugh. Greta secretly loved how Adena found her ever-so-witty remarks funny, which made her feel warm and calm inside.

“Mmmm, I love these poached eggs!” Greta said, waving her fork around her plate. “Hey Adena, you can take Zareen to ‘La Femme Fatal’ that Saturday night, when she arrives. Dame IV will be playing at that pub the next three Saturdays in a row. I hear they’re really a good up-and-coming band.”

“Hmmm, I’ll think about it...I may have to wash my hair that night.” Adena responded with a smirk and tilt of the head, causing Greta to throw a sugar cube at her.

- - - - -
After breakfast, the girls decided they were too full to run home and walked instead. So Adena suggested they take the longer, scenic route home through a hilly park. They came upon a large playground covered in sand and stopped to sit on a couple of squeaky swings.

Looking towards Adena’s hoodie, Greta motioned with her free hand, “NYU? They have a really good linguistics program there. During my undergraduate education, I dated a woman who is now the head of their department. Did you attend NYU for photography classes?”

“No, no a...friend gave me this sweatshirt.” Adena replied looking down at her chest. “Uhm, who is this woman you dated...your NYU connection?”

“Oh, it was a beautiful Egyptian goddess named Lady Isis.”

“That was her real name?”

“Yes, that is her real name.” Greta laughed. “We met in an archery class. I was the teacher’s assistant. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of class time holding her from behind, making sure she had the proper stance, that her feet and hips lined up with the target. Needless to say, we ended up giving each other ‘private lessons’ after the course was completed.”

Adena chuckled, “I bet she got an ‘Excellent’ in the class.”

“It was actually pass/fail. But, heck yeah, you know I passed her.” Greta exclaimed, clicking her tongue twice and raising her eyebrows. “She was also my first lesbian sexual experience.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I was 19 and in my second year of university. She was 27 and finishing up her PhD in linguistics. She took the beginning archery class as an anxiety reliever. And as they say, the rest is history. She was a great lover and taught me all my skilled sexual techniques,” Greta finished with a wink.

“So then, I have the Egyptian goddess to thank?” Adena chuckled, causing Greta to also laugh.

“Yes, indeed.”

- - - - -
Back at Adena’s, the girls sat on opposite ends of her couch with full and content bellies, watching a classic Brigitte Bardot movie on the apartment’s old tube television.

“You know, I’m training to run in the Paris International Marathon on the 6th of April. I’m really excited about it. Although, I’m actually very stiff and sore at the moment from all the running and gym work I’ve been doing. So, I was glad you suggested we just walk back.”

“Oh, poor baby. Why don’t I give you a massage. Here, turn around.” Greta complied and Adena started to rub her shoulders. “Wow, you are tense. I have epsom salt, so better yet, why don’t I run a warm bath for you and you go soak a bit. That always really helps me.”

“I...I’d like that a lot,” Greta nodded, as satisfaction flowed into her eyes.

Adena stood and walked into her bathroom to start the bath. A moment later, Greta walked in and found her kneeling by the tub, adding in the crystals and testing the temperature of the water with the back of her hand. When she stood up, Greta gave her a hug from behind. Adena turned in her arms, saying, “I’ll be right back with a clean bath towel for you, then I’ll leave you to your bath.” But, as soon as Adena left the room, Greta stripped bare and got in the half-full tub. She felt the lukewarm water wrap around her aching muscles like a soft, warm blanket.

When Adena returned, she was taken aback to find her visitor stark-naked in the tub. She couldn’t keep her eyes from lustfully gazing at Greta’s fit, toned body. The woman before her was ravishing, especially for Adena who was famished for intimacy. Greta had one hand on her breast and the other laying between her open thighs. It was indecently erotic.

Greta reached out and touched Adena’s hand. “Why don’t you join me, there’s room and I like sharing.”

So Adena disrobed and lowered herself into the large basin, facing Greta. The girls locked eyes for a minute, before a silent Adena soaped up a sea sponge and started washing Greta’s arms, then moved down to her legs. Greta just observed quietly.

“Tell me about this thigh tattoo. How long have you had it and why an angel.” Adena had noticed Greta had a number of tattoos throughout her body. The largest one was on her right thigh of a topless female angel. The others were a small cross on her wrist; the yin-and-yang on the nape of her neck; a cursive ‘carpe diem’ on her left rib side; and a large clef note on her right buttocks.

Amused by the question, Greta explained, “My ex-girlfriend was a tattoo artist, appropriately named Engel. She talked me into getting this tattooed on my thigh when we were dating. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but now it haunts me.” Greta gave a half-suppressed laugh. “I was a bit of a wild child, one might say. At 18, I went off to university and spent the next four years partying, experimenting, getting tattoos, drunk and high.”

“Oh, I think we’ve all had similar experiences,” Adena crooned. “Minus the drunk and high for me,” she smiled.

“What about your tattoos, Adena.” Adena explained the keyhole on the side of her arm was her first tattoo, the one she’s most proud of, and it represented her coming out to the world as a lesbian. “I got it when I was 20, in Amsterdam, with my first girlfriend. She has the ‘key’ tattoo in the same spot. Meaning, she was the key that unlocked the door and set me and my sexuality free, metaphorically speaking. We dated for a bit over a year before we parted ways. Ha! I hadn’t thought about that in awhile,” her eyes looked up to the ceiling in thought.

After a bit of a pause, Greta cautiously inquired, while swirling light circles on Adena’s knee, “Sooo...your NYU ex is still in touch with you?”

Adena shifted her eyes back to Greta and took a deep breath, sighing. “Kat and I have a very...complicated relationship. Our past has been filled with obstacles, physical separations, joyous reunions, and heartaches.” Adena spent the next fifteen minutes telling Greta about her whole history with the Social Media Director of Scarlet Magazine, Kat Edison, her visa issues, the dreaded open relationship, her artistic block, and the Fashion Week breakup four months prior.

“A month after I was in Morocco, I had no choice but to contact her to request my things from her apartment. We didn’t communicate again, until she messaged me five weeks later to check if I received the boxes. After that, we’ve liked a few of each other’s posting on Instagram and what have you. But I hadn’t heard from her again in a while, ‘til she recently liked a Facebook photo I’m tagged in.”

“And...that was two night’s ago at my place?”

“Correct,” Adena bobbed her head.

Greta’s eyes wondered around the small washroom in thought, as Adena continued watching her. “Hey, look at our hands. Let’s get out and dry before we turn into prunes,” Greta smoothly changed the subject.

The women both rose out of the tub, drying and draping towels around their torsos. Adena stood in front of the fogged up vanity, wiping it with a dry washcloth to look at herself. Greta came up behind her, untying and dropping Adena’s towel to the ground, then cupped and kneaded her breasts tenderly. They both looked up into the mirror with heavy desire.

“Mmmm, you are the sexiest,” Greta said as she kissed Adena’s neck just below her ear.

Adena moaned, “Mmmmm! Let’s go to my bed and you can tell me more.”

- - - - -
Greta backed Adena onto her bed, gently pushing her on top of the soft mattress. She brought her face to Adena’s, capturing her lips in a slow kiss. “You are so beautiful. Are you sure I’m not imagining all this, and this is just a fever dream I’m having?” Adena chuckled and reintroduce their lips, deepening the kiss. “Mmmm, I love kissing you,” Greta confessed.

“We’ll have to keep it quiet, as the walls are very thin between the apartments,” Adena warned. “My next door neighbors have a VERY active sex-life and I’m subjected to hearing his boyfriend calling him ‘hot stallion’ during intercourse. In her best male voice, Adena sung out, “étalon chaud, étalon chaud!” The two girls rolled once on the mattress laughing hysterical.

Greta smiled up at Adena and requested, “Can you also put your phone on ‘Do not disturb’ while we...have sexy time?”

“Sure, yes.”

- - - - -
The rest of the afternoon was spent sharing smoldering looks and having incredible sex, just stopping once to eat leftovers from Adena’s icebox.

It was early evening and finally time for Greta to say goodbye and return to her place. As they held hands and waited curbside for Greta’s ride, she said, “Tomorrow is Monday and I have to be at work early. Maybe we can see each other during the week?”

“For sure, Greta. Let me know later what your schedule’s like, as mine is flexible.”

Chapter Text

In the busy airport corridor, Zareen rushed to embrace her big sister just beyond the French TSA agent ropes.

“Oh my beautiful Adena-joon, mwah!”

“Ahhh, so good to hold you, sweet âbji. I’ve missed you so much! I’m so excited you are in Paris for a week. We are going to have some fun times while you’re here.”

“Don’t forget, I also want to eat lots of those pastries you promised.”

“Yes, yes! I have...THE best French patisserie around the corner from my flat. The owner already knows me by name.” The sisters giggled as they walked hand-in-hand towards the baggage claim area.

“I’m so glad to see you so happy. You are glowing, Adena. What has gotten into you?”

“Oh, I’m just relaxed and happy to be working a lot. I find so much inspiration here in Paris and have some really neat, new ideas for my next gallery showing.”

“There’s my bag, the one with the pink and yellow ribbons on the handle!” Zareen shouted and pointed.

“Come, let’s grab your luggage and be on our way.”

- - - - -
Adena’s apartment was a half-hour’s ride from the airport through bustling Paris cityscapes and crowded streets. Zareen used the time in the cab to update Adena on her job and her latest friend-drama, until they arrived safely in front of Adena’s building. The girls paid their fare and took all of Zareen’s belongings upstairs.

“Okay, this is smallish but charming, Adena. I like the partial view of the garden below,” Zareen said, drawing the sheer curtains aside. “Ooh-la-la, who is that handsome bearded fellow riding off on his bicycle?”

Adena walked over and peered out the window. “Ha, that is my gay next door neighbor, Noe. Sorry Aziz-am. But I do have another very good looking, single neighbor named Youseff. He is a chemical engineer at one of our oil refineries. He is my age and very soft spoken. He used to converse with me a lot by the mailboxes. But since he saw me...um...now he only says hello.”

“Saw you...what?”

“Never mind, wash up quickly so we can walk over to the patisserie. I’m starving.”

- - - - -
“Deux, s’il vous plaît.” Holding two fingers up, Adena ordered chocolate eclairs and cafés at the bakery counter. “Merci,” then went to find her sister’s table in the back of the room.

“So...have you been talking to Kat lately?”

Adena looked up annoyed and huffed. “I don’t want to talk about THAT now.” Sitting down and pointing to the food, Adena added, “Come on Zareen, you’re having decadent chocolate eclairs for lunch. Let’s focus on that.”

“Remember Adena, I am your confidant and always have your best interest at heart. So, naturally I want to know the latest news on that girl of yours.”

“She’s NOT ‘that girl of mine’...anymore! And, I appreciate you not using that terminology.” Adena felt irritated but saw that Zareen was not going to drop the subject, from the look she was giving her.

“Alright...truth is we rarely communicate, anymore. I’ve stopped initiating text messages to Kat and, if she messages me, my replies are short, one worded. I also think Kat’s gotten so busy with work and her City Council campaign, that she’s stopped reaching out. Well...she did ‘like’ a photo posted of me last week, but those moments are few and far between.”

“So, no more drunk voicemail messages in the middle of the night?”

“No, thankfully,” Adena rolled her eyes at Zareen.

“Okay, then it’s turned ice-cold with La Kat. So, you need to get out and meet new people. You are such a beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful women, Adena, and you will meet someone new someday, I pray you will.” Zareen looked heavenward.

“Well, actually...” Adena looked down at her coffee cup and stirred the liquid slowly. “I have been seeing someone new. And, she’s really great.”

“Ooooh, do tell your petite soeur!” Zareen nearly jumped out of her chair and grasped Adena’s hand.

Adena giggled and shifted in her chair. “Alright, her name is Greta and she’s originally from Germany. But she’s been in Paris since age 18.”

Wide eyed, Zareen asked in a whisper, “Are you guys...doing it?”

“What? Are we 15? Come on Zareen, this is 2019, you can ask me the question using ‘the word’ now.”

“Okay Adena, are you guys having sex?” Zareen spoke up in a much louder volume, causing an elderly couple to turn and shoot them a scowling look.

“May-bee...” Adena chuckled shyly.

“Oh, now look who’s 15! So, yes, you have done, what Westerners call, the dirty deed!”

“It wasn’t dirty.” Adena drew her brows together. “She is wonderful, sweet, and kind. We’ve been seeing each other for over two weeks now. Been hanging out at each other’s apartments, cooking, or going to the movies or shows. She’s even taken me hiking and jogging, believe it or not,” Adena snickered very animated. “She works for the French Embassy, is fun, and plays bass guitar in a band she started. I met her at a pub in town. And, you’re in luck, because tonight she is playing there again. She wants to meet you, Zareen.”

“She does sound great. I’m looking forward to seeing her play and speak to me about her...intentions...with my big sister.” Zareen said with a laugh. “Hey, maybe I can meet a nice fellow at the pub tonight and we can double-date.”

Adena patted the top of her sister’s hand, “Sorry to break it to you aziz-am, but it’s a lesbian establishment. I’ll introduce you to Youseff later if we bump into him at the mailboxes.”

- - - - -
“Thank you for lending me these chic leather pants, âbji. Oh...and this red suede hijab to match, magnifique!” Zareen said, looking in the full-length mirror. The girls were putting the finishing touches on their Paris-night party attire in Adena’s walk-in closet.

“You look so cute! Everyone’s going to turn and look at my sweet, sexy sister and be jealous. There are a couple of friends that we are meeting there before 10. That’s when Dame IV will start playing. So hurry up, we don’t want to be late.” Adena slapped Zareen on the backside as she exited the wardrobe.

The girls took the metro to the stop near ‘La Femme Fatal’. Arriving at the pub, the place was already crowded and noisy. “It’s 9:47, Greta’s band will be up next. Come, let’s find my friends near the stage in back.”

Adena found Odette, Valeree, Esmée and her new date, and Tilda, another artist who Odette had introduced her to years before. “Bonsoir,” Adena announced as she hugged and kissed everyone at the table. “ This is my little sister Zareen, visiting me from Morocco.”

Zareen waved, “Bonsoir, happy to meet you all!”

“Where is Esmée’s date, Tenshi? This is a new one?” Adena whispered in Valeree’s ear.

“Yes, Esmée said Tenshi was dull, this is her new girl-toy. She told us she’s into S and M.” Valeree cackled loudly and punched Adena on the upper arm.

“Oh my, she looks very scary!” Adena responded with wide eyes.

The waitress came by and Adena ordered two club sodas with lemon and soon the announcer got on the stage mic.

“Attention, s'il vous plaît! Bienvenue Dame IV!” The door behind the stage opened and out ran Greta and her three band members, taking their instruments to play.

“Which guitar player is she, âbji?” Zareen shouted into Adena’s ear.

“The bass guitarist, on our left, wearing the long red vest.”

“Ooh, she’s so beautiful...and blonde?” Zareen stated with a surprised expression. “I can see why you’re attracted to her. But I think Kat’s much more exotic and hotter looking.”

Adena turned her head quickly, with a menacing look, towards Zareen, “W-What?!”

“I’m just saying Kat is more your type, is all.” Zareen could tell Adena was annoyed by her blunt declaration. “Don’t get mad, âbji. It’s just one opinion, and I’m basing it solely on looks right now. I have to meet this...musician to finalize my full critique.”

Adena was fuming inside at Zareen’s comment, but soon relaxed when Greta threw her a kiss from stage.

- - - - -
The Dame IV played for a solid hour straight before they took their first break. The lead singer, Danea announced they would be back in 15, but first everyone should sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to their beloved bassist, who turned 31 tonight.

“Oh, it’s your new girlfriend’s birthday, Adena. We should have brought her a present, no?”

“I didn’t know this, Zareen.” Adena was just as surprised as her sister of the news.

The crowd finished yelling and clapping, then Greta jumped down and joined Adena’s table.

“Hello everyone!” Pulling a chair over, Greta greeted everyone and kissed Adena on the hand.

“Happy birthday Greta,” Odette and Valeree said in unison.

With a hand extended, Zareen beat Adena to an introduction. “Nice to meet you, Greta. I’m Zareen El-Amin.”

“Yes, I figured that out from the stage, when I saw a younger Adena sitting at this table. So happy to make your acquaintance Zareen. Adena has told me a lot about you.” The two girls hugged loosely and kissed on the cheeks.

“Well, don’t believe everything my sister told you. I’m actually quite nice all the time.”

Greta laughed and put her arm around Adena’s shoulders, responding, “Ah, yes, she told me about your keen sense of humor, too. I’m liking you more already.”

“Baby, don’t inflate her ego,” Adena said looking at Greta. “Hey, you didn’t tell me it was your birthday.”

“I wanted to surprise you with the news tonight. Plus, I didn’t want to pressure you into bringing me a gift.” Greta leaned in near Adena’s ear and whispered the rest in a husky voice, “Let’s go outside for a few minutes and cool off together, then you can give me an advanced present there,” causing Adena to choke out a laugh.

Adena and Greta stood up and excused themselves, donning on coats, and walked outside the pub, around to the poorly lit alleyway. Greta quickly embraced Adena and pushed her up against the establishment’s brick wall, burying her face in her neck. “Mmmm...you smell so good and feel so soft and warm.”

“Uh-huh, you only wanted me to yourself for my body.”

“Baby, I want you for the whole package.” Greta kissed Adena deep and passionately, slipping her hands below her hips and grabbing her ass in the process.

Adena quickly spoke in a hush, “Oh gosh...I don’t think you want to start this now. Remember my sister is here for eight days...EIGHT DAYS STRAIGHT! So we cannot hookup until she leaves...Mmmm, Greta!...Oh...you drive me wild.” Adena said moaning, as Greta rubbed her butt and kissed her neck.

“I know, but doesn’t mean I can’t still ravish you in a dark alley.” Greta moved one hand to Adena’s front and lightly rubbed it on the denim, up and down her inner thigh. She then undid Adena’s brass pant button, lowering her zipper, and gently slid her hand down the front of her jeans. She reached inside her panties too, until she felt a warm dampness.

Adena broke their kiss to take a labored breath, “Oh my...Mmmm...Greta don’t you have to go back inside soon?” Greta used her other free hand to go up Adena’s jacket and sweater and squeezed her breast, keeping their foreheads pressed together. “Mmmmm, baby...there are people walking by and they’ll hear us!” Suddenly, a calypso beat came from her back pocket. It was her phone’s alarm signaling the 15 minute break was over and she needed to return to the stage.

“Merde! I gotta go. Can we continue next break?” Greta whispered into Adena’s ear.

“Okay...yes! But my sister and friends are going to get suspicious if we keep disappearing every break together.”

Greta kissed Adena one last time, pulling her hand out of her pants, and slowly lifted up her zipper. Adena finished buttoning up her jeans and the two walked back inside holding hands.

“I’m going to rush to the ladies room before we play some more. See you in an hour.” Greta pecked Adena’s lips and ran off to use the bathroom.

“Welcome back, grande soeur. Did you guys...cool off? From the look of your rosy cheeks, I think the outdoors had the opposite effect on you.”

Adena took out her compact from her handbag and retouched her lipstick, pretending not to hear Zareen’s snide comment.

The band played until midnight, then another group took center stage. “Let’s go celebrate your birthday at that cafe you like near your apartment, Greta,” Adena suggested. The three women bid farewell to the pub crowd and headed towards the front door.

As they attempted to exit the building, Wilma, the band’s drummer, stopped Greta. “Hey dude, we just got some really good weed from the bartender to smoke, if you’re interested.” Adena and Zareen stood together, silently looking between the two women.

“Uh, no thanks fam. Count me out.” Greta shook her head and quickly answered, taking Adena’s hand and leading the way out of the pub.

- - - - -
“So Adena tells me you are a Translator for the French Embassy. Very impressive, Greta.” The three ordered sandwiches and drinks and sat by the front window of the cozy bistro, Lettres D’amour.

“Meh, the job’s not as glamorous as it sounds, Zareen. It’s 90% paperwork, memos, and phone calls. Only 10% is translating for visiting German dignitaries. That’s why I play in a band...for REAL fun.” Greta opened her eyes wide and smirked. “But, the daytime job pays the bills and allows me to take a beautiful Persian princess to semi-exotic bistros like this one,” Greta said taking Adena’s hand in hers.

“You’re really funny, too. I can see why Adena is so attracted to you.” Adena and Greta gave each other warm looks and smiles, at Zareen’s comment. “Why is this place called ‘Love Letters’ Adena?”

“Ooh fascinating fact, I know the owners. They told me they met 20 plus years ago on a one-month African safari. She lived in Colombia at the time, and he lived in India. Apparently it was love at first sight, but they had a terrible distance between them. So they kept the passion burning by writing love letters to each other...for like five years! Eventually they decided to move together to Paris and opened up this bistro. Isn’t that so romantic?”

“Indeed,” Greta responded.

“I think there’s something so sensual and romantic about putting words to paper using one’s penmanship, unlike this world we live in now of electronic messaging, so cold and sterile. It’s good for the heart to write and receive love letters in the mail.”

“You are a hopeless romantic, my dear sister. Are you sure you’re only 29?” Adena rolled her eyes and Greta snickered at Zareen’s statement.

After everyone finished eating, Adena insisted on paying the bill, then they headed on foot to Greta’s loft, six blocks away.

“This is a really nice place, Greta. I guess that’s your...bedroom upstairs?” Zareen pointed awkwardly from where she sat next to Adena on the green futon. “What a great idea to build a second floor above the kitchen.”

“Yeah, it was my little brother’s idea. He is an architect and renovated this building for my grandparents who own it.”

“And, I can see that you are a minimalist. Your place is comfortable but has little decor. Unlike how we keep our homes, right Adena?” Adena looked up at Greta then rolled her eyes at Zareen.

“Yes, I like my living quarters to be neat and functional. Guess I’m a no-frills kinda gal.”

The conversation went on for another half-an-hour, but soon Greta yawned. The yawn became contagious, and then all three girls yawned. “Well, it’s getting late and we best head home. Zareen has had a long day and I’m pretty exhausted, too. Come on tired girl.” Adena motioned for her sister to stand up off the futon.

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to use your washroom before we leave, Greta.”

“Not at all, it’s the door after the kitchen, Zareen.”

While the younger El-Amin was out of the room, Adena and Greta enwrapped each other in their arms. “So, did I pass the El-Amin family test? Your sister can be a tough interrogator.” The two lovers chuckled quietly. “Thank you again for my birthday night and dinner. I’m so glad I got to spend it with you.” Greta and Adena kissed slowly and sweetly.

“You’re welcome, the pleasure was mine. Oh...and, speaking of pleasure, thank you for getting me all hot-and-bothered at the pub. Now I’m leaving frustrated, with my little sister, to a super-small apartment with absolutely NO privacy. Just what a girl dreams about while lying with a sibling in her bed at night.” Adena and Greta both chuckled and rubbed noses.

“You’re welcome, babe. You know they say, ‘Adsense makes the heart grow fonder’, so you’ll really appreciate me when we’re alone, again.”

“Oh, I appreciate you ALL the time, just so you know. Anyhow, we’ll see you tomorrow for lunch at the Zoo, like we planned.”

- - - - -
The siblings got home just after two o’clock in the morning. They got into their pajamas and brushed their teeth before bed. Lying in the dark, Adena wondered how her sister felt about Greta.

“So, what did you think of Greta? She’s great, huh?”

“I really like her. But Maman would say she’s a bit of a wild child.”

“Zareen, Maman thinks everyone is a wild child, including me.”

“Yes, and you were a wild child before age 20. But Maman doesn’t feel that way about everyone. She really likes Kat, Adena. You have to admit, she’s a tough act to follow.”

Adena let out a big, audible sigh, “Goodnight Zareen,” and she turned off the lights.

Chapter Text

Sunday morning began with some clouds and a light breeze, but soon the skies opened up and a warm sun greeted the City. Greta woke up before nine o’clock and went for a long run through the cobblestone streets of Paris. She was starting to run longer distances in preparation for April’s marathon, and her aches and pains had dissipated.

Further south, Adena and Zareen welcomed the new day with yawns and stretches. They had gotten up earlier to pray but decided afterwards to crawl back into a warm bed for more sleep.

“I’m so very excited to go to the Zoo today, âbji!

“You know, I recently read that there are now over 1,000 exotic animals housed at ‘Parc Zoologique de Paris’. I’m going to enjoy capturing the experience on my camera. And, I feel you will really appreciate this visit more than your first one, six years ago. You were just a child then and wouldn’t be in the moment.”

“I wouldn’t say that, I was 18, hardly a child,” Zareen argued back with annoyance.

“Hmm, I beg to differ.” Adena said, walking towards the kitchen and inserting four slices of toast in the toaster. “Go get washed up while I make us coffee and breakfast. I have eggs, toast, and fruit. Does that sounds alright?”

“Yes Maman, that sounds perfect for your ‘childish’ sister!” Zareen huffed and walked away to the washroom, slamming the door.

Adena grinned and said under her breath, “Well, guess some things never change.” While she scrambled some eggs in a large skillet, she took out her cellphone and messaged Greta.

Adena:
Good morning sunshine! Can’t wait to see you at noon.

She waiting a few seconds for a response, then put her phone down on the counter. She cut up fruit and made the coffee. Then plated everything and called out for her sister to come, “Your breakfast is served, your majesty!”

“Be out in a sec, peasant!”

Adena snickered at her sister’s antics and sat down to eat. She unlocked her phone to read emails, but all of Zareen’s talks about Kat had peaked Adena’s interest in her ex, again. She hadn’t looked up Kat in so long, that her curiosity got the best of her, and she opened up Instagram, looking at Kat’s feed. It had been over a month since she looked at any of her social media. As she scrolled through her phone, Zareen came back to the kitchen and pulled up a stool at the counter, looking over Adena’s shoulder.

“Hmmm, how’s your...I mean, how’s the New York City councilwoman doing?”

“Looks like...she’s very busy campaigning in neighborhoods, women’s centers, and school buildings.”

Zareen stretched her neck trying to get a better look. “Who is that short girl she’s always standing next to?”

“Um, the photo caption says, ‘Katherine Edison and her Campaign Manager, Tia Clayton, at a recent Planned Parenthood Clinic visit’.

“Oh...she works for Kat. She’s cute, but you’re cuter.” Zareen said leaning her chin on Adena’s shoulder.

“Merci, but your opinion is biased. Hmmm, she really does look lovely in her long braids.” Adena stared at Kat’s picture for a good long minute, then sighed and turned to look at her sibling. “If I tell you something, Zareen, you promise not to tease me?”

“Sure, Adena.”

Adena took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I really regret leaving Kat at the hotel last October. I wish I could rewind time and fix that.”

“Nooo, no, you cannot rewind time or the world would go into the apocalypse. That’s called ‘The Butterfly Effect’ in science.” Zareen joked, then took pity on her sister’s crestfallen face and watery eyes, and she simply continued with a serious, “I know, âbji,” placing her arms around Adena’s upper torso for a hug.

Adena put her phone and fork down and hugged her sister back. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, little one.”

“And...I’d be lost without you too, big one. Now, dry your tears and eat. We have a Zoo date to attend with your new beautiful, blondie girlfriend.”

- - - - -
When the siblings arrived at the Paris Zoo, Greta was already waiting on a bench, wearing a ball cap and her hair in a ponytail. “Salut soeurs!” She jumped up and gave Adena a soft, savoring kiss on the lips, while Zareen looked away bashfully. Greta then greeted Zareen with a brief hug and kiss on both cheeks. Finally, taking Adena’s hand and leading them all through the entrance gate of the Zoo.

Holding up her cellphone, Greta declared, “I’ve already purchased the tickets, so the attendant will just simply scan my phone and we are in! We’re lucky the afternoon is shaping up to be warmer and pleasant, for a late Parisian February.”

“Yes, and thank you. I’ll buy our meals since you treated with the admission fees,” Adena announced, rubbing her arm.

“And, I’ll buy desserts, lattes, and souvenirs for us three,” Zareen added.

Since it was lunchtime, and all three women were very hungry, they decided to commence their park visit with a stop at the ‘Wild, Wild Bistro’ for food. Both El-Amin sisters ordered the vegetarian wrap and Greta got a chicken salad. “I hope the chicken in my salad wasn’t a runaway Zoo fowl that fell in the kitchen pot,” she jested and the girls laughed.

“So Greta, Adena told me you will run in a marathon come April. That is impressive, since I get winded climbing up three flights of stairs to Adena’s place.”

“Ha, ha, that’s funny! Yes, on the 6th of April I’m running in the Paris International Marathon. It is a 40 km course through many famous City landmarks. All runners who finish the race in less than four hours will get a commemorative medal.”

“Wow, four hours? Will you be able to do that, or will you just collapse on the pavement half way through?”

Greta found Zareen’s question funny, “Yes, peace of cake! I’ve done other marathons and have usually finished in the three-and-a-half...ish times. The secret is to build yourself up with proper training and keep a steady pace during the race.”

Zareen turned to Adena and asked, “Will you be there to watch her, âbji?

“For sure! I will cheer for Greta at the start, and then be waiting for her at the finish line with a great, big painted sign.” Greta smiled at Adena with admiration. “Okay, let’s clean up our mess here. There are animals to see and photograph.”

- - - - -
As the girls waiting in line to enter the large animal exhibits, Zareen snapped a cellphone picture of Greta kissing Adena on the lips, posting it to Instagram.

“Zareen, why did you post that? Let me see your phone...Take it down now!”

“Okay âbji, geez what’s wrong with you!”

Greta didn’t say anything and just observed the back-and-forth interaction between the sisters.

“I just don’t want my private business out in the social media world for anyone to see.” The crowds began to move forward, and Adena turned around and pulled Greta by the hand into the enclosures. Zareen trailed not too far behind with amazement in her eyes.

“The elephants are my favorite because they are strong, but gentle,” Zareen said.

Adena added, “I love the giraffes because they are tall, regal, and have curious faces and personalities.”

“Yes, I agree with both of your favorite animal choices, ladies,” Greta tactfully noted. “But I have to go with the cheetahs, because they are the fastest land animals on earth. Did you know they can amazingly run up to 120 km per hour?”

“Zareen coughed sarcastically towards Adena, “Ahem, ahem! Only a marathon-nerd would know that kind of trivia.”

“Zareen, that is so rude! Apologize to Greta immediately!” Adena scolded with brows knitted and a finger poking into her sister’s shoulder.

“Ha! No need to apologize, Zareen. I deserved that for giving you information overload. But want to know a secret, I cheated and just read it on the placard of the cheetah enclosure we just passed.”

The three girls laughed and walked up to a vendor selling lattes and pastries. As promised, Zareen paid for everyone’s choices. Then they all sat on a bench under a shady tree, next to the meerkat exhibit.

“Adena, you remind me of the mother meerkat, always watching on her hind legs and scolding the pups who act up,” Zareen teased.

“Well, someone’s got to reel you back in when you act up!”

- - - - -
Throughout the whole afternoon at the Zoo, Zareen attentively watched Greta and Adena’s behavior as a couple, but mostly Greta’s towards Adena. There was handholding, whispering in Adena’s ear, holding doors for Adena to walk through, and even wiping her mouth with a napkin as they both ate. Adena enjoyed capturing Greta’s image as much as she liked photographing the animals. But the real kicker came after they left the Zoo and were riding the metro home, when Greta announced that she had written a new song for Dame IV.

“Yes, it is a ballad and I’m debuting it at the pub next Saturday night. Too bad you are leaving that afternoon, Zareen, and will miss it.”

“Yes, darn it. What is the name of it?”

Greta smiled as she gazed into Adena’s eyes, “it’s called ‘Beautiful Girl’.

- - - - -
The following week came and went. Zareen spent her days away at her scientific conference while Adena worked at her studio. The sisters would meet up every day after 4 PM for early dinner and then tour the City some more, or go hang out at Greta’s place or Adena’s. All awhile, Zareen kept observing Adena and Greta’s interactions.

Saturday morning came and Zareen was scheduled to return to Morocco on the direct five o’clock flight. She was packing up her suitcase while Adena watched the local news.

“I can’t believe how fast my week went by in Paris. I truly have had a wonderful time with you, âbji. And, the conference wasn’t half-bad either.”

“I’m so happy you came, and so happy you met Greta. I hope you can come back to Paris, soon. Or perhaps I can take Greta to Morocco one weekend. She’d probably find the people and town fascinating.”

Zareen smiled at her sister then shook her head thinking.

“What? Why are you looking at me with such seriousness, petite soeur?”

Zareen sat down on the couch next to Adena. She then wet her lips and spoke, “Last night in between your snoring-“

“I don’t snore!” Adena quickly interrupted and snapped back at Zareen.

“Okay...then...between your labored breathing!...So, last night you called Kat’s name out loud while you slept. It woke me up and nearly gave me a heart attack because you yelled it!” Zareen dramatically held her hand over her chest. “I asked you why you were screaming and you mumbled a couple of incoherent things, but then responded, “I have to go see Kat and tell her I love her before she sails away”.

Adena didn’t respond to her sister’s declaration, just listened while she gazed at the television program, letting the information sink in.

Zareen continued, “I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear, âbji. Two things, in fact,” she held up two fingers in front of Adena’s face.

“Well, If you believe I don’t want to hear them, then don’t tell me,” Adena answered in a monotone voice, pushing Zareen’s hand out of her face.

Zareen took a deep breath and slowly exhaled through her nose. “The first thing, this Greta Von Stein has fallen in love with you. And, although you don’t want to admit it, you know it to be true. She EVEN wrote a song about you, for goodness’ sakes!”

Adena hugged a small cushion from her couch, then looked away towards the window.

“The second thing is, you are still in love with Kat Edison. Kat still owns your heart! And...you are reluctant to let her go. Therefore, Greta cannot enter your heart. And, you will break hers, unless you tell her what you’re feeling. You have to be honest with Greta, yourself, and both of your separate hearts.”

Zareen tried to get Adena to turn and look her in her eyes, by pulling at her sleeve, but she would not turn towards her. So she continued, “Ask yourself this, Adena...Do you want to return to New York and pursue Kat, again?”

“I...I’m not sure. I don’t know the answer to that question, Zareen.”

“Oh, I believe you do know the correct answer. They say, the truth will set us all free, âbji. So what will you do?”

Adena finally turned her head towards her sister and her eyes rose up, looking at Zareen’s, “Why did Allah reward me with such a wise sister?”

Zareen reached over and held Adena’s hands. “Adena, in order to be true to Greta, you will have to let Kat go, completely and forever. Are you going to do that? Think about it, but don’t take too long or you will make it very difficult on both you and Greta. You owe her honesty, and you owe it to her soon. After the pub tonight, you have to tell her. “Capisce, sister?”

Tears filled Adena’s eyes, but she nodded her head in agreement.

- - - - -
At the airport, later that evening, the siblings hugged and promised to see each other again, soon. “Okay, so message me as soon as you arrive and are in the taxi heading to your home. Then again when you’re safely inside your bedroom.”

“I will grande soeur. I love you and I’ll miss you so much!”

“I love you and will miss you, too.”

Adena waved goodbye and Zareen disappeared down the airport corridor. As Adena walked outside the facility, she pulled out her cellphone and texted Greta.

Adena:
Hey, I’m leaving the airport and headed to your flat now.

Greta:
Okay baby, can’t wait to see you! I have dinner almost ready.”

Chapter Text

Greta welcomed Adena into her loft by pulling her inside the door by the lapels of her wool coat, then pressing her up against the hall closet door with her full body. “Oh baby, I’ve missed your smell, your soft skin, your lips, your...everything so much this last week...Mmmm!” Greta’s hands were wondering all over Adena’s body like a kid in a candy shop, as she tore off Adena’s coat and began pulling on the hem of her sweater.

In between smoldering kisses, Adena tried to speak, “Greta...you worked so hard in the kitchen...we should eat first.” The unmistakable moans that came out of Greta’s mouth told Adena dinner wasn’t her first priority for the evening. “Baby...the food’s going to get cold...let’s eat first then...oh gosh!...Mmmm!”

“The food’s already cold, Adena. I made gazpacho soup, which is served chilled, and ceasers salad. So, let’s have...dessert first, okay? I want you so bad...Oh god!”

Items of clothing came off and hit the floor fast, but Adena managed to convince Greta to take her upstairs to the bedroom before they were completely naked. Loud sighs and groans filled the apartment for the next hour, as both women were absorbed by their titillating sexual desire.

- - - - -
The girls sat downstairs eating supper, at the small kitchen counter wearing Greta’s oversized t-shirts and their panties. “Yum, this is really delicious. Thank you for this,” Adena complemented and leaned over to kiss Greta’s cheek. “Oh, and thank you for THAT too.” Adena pointed up at Greta’s bedroom, bit her bottom lip and winked.

“You’re welcome...times two!” Greta winked back. “Hey, did Zareen text that she’s arrived okay?”

“Not yet, she doesn’t land for another...”, Adena checked the kitchen microwave clock, “...hour”. She’ll message me once she’s in the cab.”

Meals finished, the two cleared the dishes and glasses, and laid them in the kitchen sink.

“Leave that stuff to soak, I’ll wash them later tonight. But let’s go grab a quick shower and dress for the pub. We can’t be late or my band will kill me.”

“Oh, we can’t have that...I’m not done with you, yet.” Adena giggled and took off running ahead to the washroom.

- - - - -
As Adena finished dressing upstairs, Greta came down and gathered her guitar and sheet music. Adena soon joined her by the front door and they rushed out into the cold, flagging down a cab.

‘La Femme Fatale’ was already filled with a large crowd. Adena recognized all of the regulars that frequented every Saturday night. Danae, Wilma, and Béatrice were already on stage, tuning their instruments. Greta quickly joined them, after giving Adena a peck on the lips. “Meet you after the first break.”

Adena found her usual group of cronies and sat down. After much small talk, the Dame IV began to play. They played a few warm-up songs before Greta got on the mic and announced the next number.

“Thank you all for coming. I’m Greta and we are Dame IV.” The bar crowd clapped and cheered. “Good to see familiar faces and some new ones as well. Okay...well, next we’d like to play a ballad for you that I wrote myself...called, ‘Beautiful Girl’.

The crowd died down and the pub got quiet as the band began to play. Danae began to sing and Greta provided soft harmony in parts of the chorus. Adena sat mesmerized listening to the lyrics, watching Greta.

“Persian eyes as deep as the sea...
Filled my heart and soul with nothing but glee...
Oh beautiful girl...oh beautiful girl...
You mean the world to me...”

Adena was lost in her emotions and her eyes swam with tears, as she felt so very touched by Greta’s lovely song. Suddenly, she was startled as aggressive arms wrapped around her shoulders, “Oh dear, I really think this song is about you!” Valeree loud-whispered in her ear. “I believe there’s a smitten German musician amongst us.”

“Yes, how lovely of Greta to write you a song, Adena,” Odette added.

The song came to an end and the crowd roared and whistled. Adena was proud of the crowd’s reaction to the ballad, and she winked at Greta and clapped loudly, too. Greta gave her a knowing look and mimicking wink from the stage, then the band continued playing for another 45 minutes straight. Adena didn’t get to thank Greta until their first 15 minute break.

“That was truly lovely, Greta. Thank you for such a sweet gesture. You touched me here,” Adena held her right hand over her heart.

“Hey, I never said that song was about you,” Greta joked, gently poking Adena’s chest over her heart. “Okay...maybe...you inspired me to write it...just a little.”

Adena slapped Greta’s butt and hugged her tightly. “Okay, goofy girl!”

“Okay, beautiful girl,” Greta responded in her ear, and they softly pressed their lips together.

- - - - -
The band bid everyone goodnight at two and the pub emptied out. Soon after, Adena and Greta were back at Adena’s home for the night.

“Oh...my...gosh! Your libido is going to be the death of me, Greta,” Adena panted, as Greta crawled back up her body and collapsed next to her on the bed, laughing in between short breaths.

“It’s not my fault, Adena. You have this magnetic force over me.” Adena chuckled and turned towards her lover, kissing her shoulder then spooning her from behind. It had been a long day for both, and within a few moments both girls succumbed to their exhaustion and fell asleep.

At 4:18 AM, Adena woke up cold and reached out for Greta to snuggle in close, but she only found an empty bed. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes and propping herself up on her elbows, and began to scan the room for her partner. In a corner of the room, she found Greta sitting on the window sill in her panties, a tank top, and a small shawl draped over her shoulders, staring out into the moonlit garden below.

“H-hey...what’s wrong dear, do you feel sick?” Adena asked with a slightly husky voice.

Greta didn’t answer, she just turned and looked at Adena with piercing eyes.

Adena flung the covers off and walked over to be by her side. Questioning again, while brushing her fingertips lightly between Greta’s shoulder blades, “Babe, what is the matter?”

Greta turned and caressed Adena’s hips, closing her eyes and pulling her in between her legs, for a hug. “Adena, do you know you talk in your sleep sometimes?”

“Uh-huh,” Adena responded with trepidation, holding Greta’s head against her bare breasts.

“Well...you see...earlier I woke up and went to spoon you and...and you turned to me and whispered, ‘I love you so much, Kat’...then you nuzzled into my neck like... like you were with her.”

Adena stood for a few seconds in stunned silence, feeling the sting of Greta’s revelation. She slowly pulled out of their embrace and pushed their foreheads together. “I’m...I’m at a loss for words...I don’t know why...why that happened. I’m so, so sorry.”

Greta hesitated for a moment, choosing her response carefully. “It’s okay...I get it, Adena,” she replied with eyes squeezed closed and pursed lips. “Is...is that why you didn’t want Zareen to post that picture she took of us kissing at the Zoo? Because Kat still follows her on Instagram? And you didn’t want Kat to see us together?”

“No, no Greta! You know I would never say or do anything on purpose to hurt you.” Adena fell to her knees in front of her, grasping her hips, and begging. “It’s...it’s my crazy head, my screwed up mind!”

“But we can’t help our subconscious, it only speaks what’s truly in one’s heart, our hopes and desires. And, I think that Kat is taking that space in yours, Adena. I’ve always known, and I’ve been in denial since I met you. I’ve been praying and wishing, for weeks, that it wasn’t true, that you’d let her go and let me inside. But now, this confirms that you’re still hung up on Kat.” Greta released Adena and rubbed circles on her own temples, opening her eyes. “I’m going to get dressed and go home. I want to go for a long morning run and I don’t have my jogging stuff with me.”

Adena rapidly stood up and pulled Greta by the hands towards the bed. “No, come lie down with me first. I want to talk, I need to know you’re okay.”

“Adena, I really need to go and be alone,” Greta insisted, with her blue eyes red, filling with tears.

Adena would not let go of Greta’s hands and pleaded, “No!...No, I won’t let you leave like this. Please, please!”

Greta gazed deeply into those dark, sultry eyes begging her to stay. And, she surrendered, crawling back under the covers with Adena. She held a pillow to her face, weeping silently, letting the cotton fabric soak up her tears, as Adena held her from behind, running her fingers through her hair, humming softly.

- - - - -
A loud shout in the hallway jostled both women awake. It was a male voice shouting a command at a dog. Adena untangle her legs from Greta and reached to her nightstand, pulling her phone under the covers to check the time. It was after 10 AM and the apartment was dim, as it was a gloomy day outside with an overcast sky. An intermittent drizzle fell from the vapory clouds above, and a cool late February wind swept through the streets, causing the old oak tree branches to scratch at the apartment’s window.

“What time is it?” Greta asked with a dry gravelly voice, holding her forehead as she spoke. “Oooh, I have such a headache.”

“It’s 10:09. I’m glad we dosed off. We both needed the rest.” Adena responded, pushing back Greta’s hair from her face. Here, stay in bed and I’ll go get you some pain medicine and cook us breakfast.”

Greta did not fight Adena’s suggestions and just waited for her return from the bathroom. “Okay, I’ll stay, Adena. I don’t really have anything going on today, except being lazy.”

“You’re allowed to be lazy today, it’s Lazy Sunday, dear,” Adena said to lighten the mood a bit. Here, take these two acetaminophen tabs with this big glass of water and put this ice pack over your eyes.”

Greta took the medicine and laid her head back down. As the cold compress gave her pain some immediate relief, Adena waited a few minutes, then rubbed her thigh and asked what she felt like eating.

“Um, I’ll just have some toast and coffee, please.”

- - - - -
The girls ate their breakfast in mostly uncomfortable silence. Greta went back to bed to continue using the ice bag over her brow, while Adena washed the two mugs and plates, joining her in bed afterwards.

“Adena, as soon as my headache is better, I’ll get out of your hair and go home.”

“You can stay here as long as you want, you know that,” Adena countered. She rested her head on Greta’s chest and put her arm over her waist, holding her loosely.

An hour later the two were up, dressed and waiting for a driver to take Greta home. “Message me when you get home so I know you are alright. Then we’ll talk tomorrow evening?”

“Okay, Adena.”

Chapter Text

The month of March rolled in uneventfully, bringing much milder weather and a bit more daylight, allowing Adena to spend more of her time photographing outdoors. Today she would start visiting her favorite female shopkeepers around town to capture their images, as they worked around their venues. Her different subjects owned a flower shop, a house of jewelry and antiquities, a folk medicine mart, a garment boutique, a bakery, bistros, and her one favorite bookstores in all of Paris, ‘Reves de Papier’.

As Adena entered the first small establishment, a familiar ‘twinkle’ of the shopkeeper’s bell, and the old book smell, gave Adena instant déjà vu of carefree days gone by. “Bonjour, Juliette!”

“How wonderful to see you this glorious morning, Ade’h!” Adena knew Juliette, the bookstore owner, since she was 19. They first met when adena attended photography school in Paris. The two women embraced like old friends who had been apart for many years, but time seemed to stand still in their close bond.

“You look as lovely as always, joon. The years have been good to you, still so beautiful. You haven’t changed in 10 years.”

“Ade’h, you are always so kind and sweet to me. I am now a grand-mère to six, you know. The petits and the store keep me very busy, but they both also help me stay young at heart.”

“Well, I’m glad to know your secret for staying young, Juliette,” Adena laughed.

“Oh, some day you too will get to this point and be a jolly grand-mère, I know it. So, tell me more of what brings you here, besides visiting your favorite old spot in town.”

“I am currently working on a series to showcase women who have influenced my professional photography career, up to present day. Although my life of professional photographer began after I graduated from Speos Photographic Institute in 2011, I will begin the series with a black and white photo of Maman holding me right after birth, because it is very fitting to my life. Maman has always been my rock, my number one fan. She encouraged me to be the woman, professionally and personally, that I am today.”

“Oh, I adore you dear. Your Maman couldn’t have a more perfect daughter,” the mature shopkeeper said with admiration for the young woman before her.

“Merci, but Maman is actually blessed with two perfect daughters. My little sister, Zareen has also made her very proud with her studies and personal life. Allah is good to the El-Amin women, Juliette.”

“For certain, child. Well, where do you want me to pose?” Adena set up a white umbrella reflector besides the cash register and spent the next two hours working with Juliette in her natural surroundings. She photographed her ringing up patrons, re-shelving books by the shop’s window stacks, and holding her cat, Félix.

“These look great, I am going to pack up my equipment now and be on my way, my friend. I have another appointment in half-an-hour at the botanique Fleur. If you can please sign this legal document for me, it gives me the rights to use your image at a gallery.”

“Oui, sweetheart...and give my love to Vignetta and Nicolette. I haven’t seen those two high-spirited ladies since my youngest granddaughter’s Christening, three years ago. Oh my, time does go by fast.”

Adena folded up the large reflector and packed away her camera equipment, heading off in the direction of the next small store, just two metro stops west of the bookstore. As she entered the establishment, her senses were inundated with the aroma of oils, incense, perfumes, and scented teas. The place looked cramped and intimidating to the virgin eye, but Adena was well versed in this shop. She had spent many moments, within the last ten years, perusing its shelves looking for healing teas and calming oils.

“Adena!” A really tall, curvy middle-aged brunette came out from behind a curtain to greet the photographer. “Vignetta, come out here at once, it’s our favorite and beautiful Persian friend!” A second shorter brunette with cat-eye spectacles emerged.

“Oh, what a treat to see you, gorgeous princess!” The second boisterous woman shouted.

“Hello ladies, so glad to see you both!” The three women exchanged warm hugs and welcomed Adena behind the shop’s counter to set up her photo instruments.

“By the way, did the herbal tea we sold you last Fall help with your gorgeous girlfriend’s jet lag?” Nicolette asked with inquisitive eyes.

“Uh...Yes, yes it did. Funny, I had forgotten about that.” Adena remembered taking Kat to the botanique in October, trying to find something to relieve Kat from the fatigue and sleep pattern disruption an overseas flight brings. But to avoid talking further about that subject, she quickly clapped her hands twice to change the subject, “Okay, let’s just go about your normal business and pretend I’m not here.”

Adena spent another couple of hours capturing the ladies interacting with the clientele of the family-run store, until she was satisfied with the results of her work. “Well, I think I got everything I needed,” Adena said, securing all of her equipment in their rightful cases and bags. But as she bent back up, her stomach began to growl loudly.

“Oh my, I think we better feed that animal,” Vignetta exclaimed. Come to the back room and upstairs, honey. We have some homemade seafood bisque and baguette for you.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t impose on you ladies like that,” Adena replied.

But the wives insisted Adena stay for the meal. “We’d love to have you dine with us. You know you are like a little sister to Nicolette and me, child. Besides, we want to hear more about this project of yours.”

- - - - -
It was late afternoon and Adena was tired after eating two helpings of the creamy soup and hearty bread. So, she headed home to drop off her things and call it a day. As she entered her studio apartment, her phone began to vibrate.

“Allo?” Adena answered without looking at her caller I.D.

“Allo, Adena-joon, how is my favorite artist doing?” It was Firuze calling from overseas to touch base.

“Firuze! Everything is going really well here, I’ve got inspiration for a new series I’m working on. In fact, I’ve just walked in the door of my flat after shooting close to 300 photographs earlier today. And?...how is my favorite studio manager and the city that never sleeps?”

The art manager could hear the joy in Adena’s voice, and it made her very pleased. “I’m good, it’s good. That’s great news about your photoshoot, Adena. I’m very happy for you. In fact, my reasons for calling are two fold. First, I wanted to see how you were holding up. And second, I wanted to tell you about a gallery offer in Chelsea. The ‘New York Women’s Gallery’ has approached me with an opportunity for you to show your work at their May 3rd re-opening. You know...they just renovated their 10 million dollar space and it looks fabulous. I was just there last night for a wine and cheese event with some of New York’s finest artists.”

“Hmmm...that would be two months...two months from today,” Adena said with uncertainty in her voice. “I hadn’t thought about also showing this project outside of Paris, but I guess it could be a possibility. I could show it here in mid-April, then take it to New York City two weeks later...Uh, okay...yes!”

“Wonderful! I will get back in touch with the curator and finalize all the paperwork. Do you know approximately how long you would be back in the Big Apple for this? I will need to also secure a place for you to stay in town.”

“Uhm, right now let’s plan on three weeks, but I’ll let you know if I need more time as the date approaches. Ahhh, this just occurred to me...I am friends with the gallery owner, who also happens to own the entire building. Her name is Vanessa and her husband and I went to Speos together. Perhaps she’ll let me stay the three weeks in one of her spare studio apartments, above the gallery?”

“Terrific, I will inquire about that, too. I can only imagine how decadently extravagant the apartment’s above the gallery are.”

“Thank you so much, old friend. We’ll keep in touch and I’ll send you samples of the photographs I’ve taken, real soon I promise. Give my best to your family. Au revoir!”

The call disconnected and Adena remained still for a few seconds thinking about returning to New York City, and what that meant. She wondered if she was brave enough to contact Kat while she was in town, and if Kat would even want to see her again. Adena also worried about how Greta would take the news, and how she’d break it to her. She knew she had to sit down with Greta and have a serious conversation about what their relationship was, and about Kat and her deep feelings for her. Adena looked down at the cellphone still in her hand, concluding she could put off this decision for another day when she wasn’t so fatigued. So she went to wash up and change out of her street clothes.

- - - - -
After getting into clean pajamas and having a fresh, clean face, Adena settled on her couch to edit her recent photos on her laptop. An hour later, she felt cross eyed and couldn’t look at another picture, so she closed out of the program for the night. She looked at the wall clock and it was after seven o’clock in the evening. Knowing Greta would already be home from work and settled for a Wednesday night, Adena picked up her cell and FaceTimed her.

Her intimate relationship with Greta had become a bit strained since the sleep-talking incident two weeks ago. At first Greta wouldn’t return her calls and barely answered her text messages. Adena understood that Greta had been hurt by the matter and needed time to process. Eventually, Adena waited for her outside her apartment building one late afternoon, and had a heart-to-heart talk with her as she arrived from work. Adena assured her that she would never do or say anything purposefully to hurt her, and that she had true feelings for her. So, the last few days were better between them and Greta seemed to be coming around. Tonight, Adena felt confident in what she was going to offer her.

“Hey-Hey!” Greta picked up after the fourth ring. “Wasabi?”

“Hello there, silly girl.”

“Ooh, what are you wearing,” Greta put her face right up to the camera lens and Adena could only see her one eyeball.

“Ha, ha, very funny! I’m wearing my pajamas, as are you. How was your doctor’s appointment? Did she clear you to run next month?”

“Yes, she said I have ‘Runner’s Knee’ from repetitively straining the ligament, through running, hiking, and climbing. She told me to rest it as much as possible, ice it when I’m sitting, and prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs. The best medicine is obviously not to run so much on it, but I’m not throwing away all the training I’ve done for the marathon. So no-can-do-on-the-no-running-part, doc! I’ll just keep paying the price until the race is over. This might be my last marathon, I’m afraid.”

“Oh no, poor baby. I’m sorry to hear that. I know how much you love running.”

“Yep, it sucks getting old. But it’s better than the alternative, my mum always says.” Greta snorted and then regained her composure. “How was your day?”

“Well, I spent most of my day traveling around town photographing small business owners for the series on ‘women who have inspired my career’ that I’m developing. I’ve just started and got to shoot three different friends at their shops. I have seven or eight more people and places to visit before I’m content with it. Female muses would be a great theme for a showing at a women’s museum, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, that sounds awesome. Do you have a location in mind?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I already have a secured gallery in the Sorbonne in mid-April.” Adena felt a bit nervous about telling Greta the next bit of information. “I...uh...I just got this wonderful news from my overseas manager, Firuze, today. She got me a possible showing in a New York City gallery for May 3rd.” Adena watched a serious, pensive expression wash over Greta’s face, as the information sank in.

“Oh, and you would fly there for how long?”

Adena rambled, “Well, it would be at least three weeks...and it’s a wonderful opportunity to show my work at ‘New York Women’s Gallery’, in Chelsea, a borough of Manhattan...Chelsea is known as one of the centers of the art world of the City, with over 200 galleries...” She paused to take a cleansing breath and licked her lips. “In other words, it is THE place to show your work if you want to get noticed.”

Adena could sense Greta’s wheels turning in her head, as a short silence fell between their conversation, and she looked a bit sullen. Adena tried keeping direct eye contact through the screen, while Greta’s eyes darted back and forth around the room, eventually back to her’s, holding the stare as she chewed on her thumb’s cuticle. Both parties were avoiding talking about the elephant in the room. But Greta most certainly was thinking about Kat and the implications of Adena being back in the City.

“Anyhow Greta, I was hoping...why don’t you come over after work on Friday night, I would like to make you dinner. And, afterwards you can soak in my big tub, like you enjoy...you know...strictly since your doctor ordered it for your running knee?” Greta began to laugh hysterically, looking down and holding her head. “What? What’s so funny?!” Adena demanded to know.

“It’s not called a ‘running knee’, babe. The knee isn’t running by itself down the path. It’s a ‘runner’s knee’, you see.” Greta chuckle out and Adena feigned hurt and stuck her tongue out at the screen.

“Oh okay, smarty pants! What do I know, I’m just a nerdy artist anyways. So you get my gist. Sooo-oh, what do you think of my offer to make you dinner Friday?”

“I’d like that a lot. Make sure you have lots of bath salts and topical pain relief cream...I may get you to rub my weak knee for me.” Greta said batting her lashes exaggeratedly as she spoke.

“In that case, bring an overnight bag, too. You may need to rest your...knee after I’m through with the massage therapy.” Adena waved at the screen, “Goodnight!”

Greta waved back, “Goodnight and sweet dreams!”

- - - - -
Friday night’s dinner went alright and Greta soon found herself soaking with Adena in the large bathtub, massaging Adena’s foot while she moaned and leaned her head back with closed eyes, “Mmmm, you give the best foot rubs.”

“So, I have a bit of great news too, Adena. Remember I mentioned there was a record producer that approached me, at one of the pubs our band regularly plays at?”

“Yeah, I do.” Adena opened her eyes and sat up.

“Well, she really liked ‘Beautiful Girl’ and wants us to record it at her studio, and then says she will submit it to local stations to play. If the song is a hit and gets enough radio time, she’ll offer us a record deal.”

“Gosh Greta, that is IN...CREDIBLE news!” A wide eyed Adena yelled, holding on to Greta’s knees.

“Ha, Yes! The executive also mentioned possibly having us featured as one of the new, up-and-coming bands of Paris at June’s ‘Solidays Festival’. We’d be playing amongst famous rock, pop, and hip-hop artists from Europe, in front of...like 200,000 attendees!” Greta said with great joy in her voice.

“I have attended that festival several times before. It is a wonderful event, donating its proceeds to organizations fighting AIDS. Oh Greta dear, I’m so, so happy for you and the band!” The girls leaned forward and their lips met for a kiss.

Greta grinned proudly and her eyes bored into Adena’s, as she reached up and cupped both of Adena’s soapy breasts. “We should go...celebrate?” Greta used her head to point towards the bathroom door, plastering a sexy look on her face.

- - - - -
Lying in bed naked with tangled legs, the girls faced each other and sighed in contentment. “Have I ever mentioned how much I love your bed?”

“Maybe a time or two,” Adena chuckled while softly scratching at Greta’s lower back.

“So, I’ve been thinking, every Friday evening I could run to your place from work, and stay over. Then run back home on Saturday afternoons. I would bring a change of clothes and pajamas in a backpack. So you see, I’d be using you as my race trainer...knee therapist...and body warmer. Greta wiggled her eyebrows rapidly and smiled, pulling Adena’s body closer to hers.

Adena pushed some of Greta’s hair behind her ear and answered, “Hmm, sounds like a win, win situation to me,” then leaned in and planted a deep, open mouth kiss on Greta’s lips. But before things got too heated again, there was a muffled tune playing in the distance.

“Ugh, that’s my phone! Hold that thought for a moment. I’m on-call this weekend with the Embassy. I’ll be right back.”

Adena flipped onto her stomach and waited for Greta’s return. Greta hustled into the bathroom to retrieve the phone from her jeans on the floor, swiping with her index finger to answer. “Oui?...Hey Danea, what’s up?” A nude Greta walked over to Adena’s side and sat on the edge of the bed while she spoke on the phone. Adena got up on her knees and placed open mouth kisses all over Greta’s back, moving up to her neck, reaching around with her hands to pinch both of her erect nipples.

“Mmhmm!...” Greta moaned and reached back, grabbing Adena’s head as she kissed her neck. “Yes, yes, I’m listening!...Oh, okay well then we’ll get it done...Okay, thanks and see you at tomorrow’s 9AM practice?... Well, I don’t care if Béatrice thinks that’s too early. We need the work if we’re going to play at June’s festival...Okay, okay, au revoir!”

Greta ended the call and placed the phone on the nightstand, leaning back on Adena’s chest. “That was Danea. The music producer’s assistant got in contact with her. Apparently the lady wants the band to have portraits made, group shots and individual ones. It’ll be used for promoting us and for an album cover in the future...so?”

“Say no more, we can do it next week at the studio I am co-renting. Just see what night everyone’s free and we’ll get together for a couple of hours...get it done,” the photographer stated with great optimism.

“Oh you’re the best.” Greta turned her head and kissed Adena, muttering into her lips, “Figure out how much you want to charge us and email me the invoice next week.”

Adena ran her fingers through silky hair and muttered back, “Oooh...for you the fee will be hefty. But I don’t take cash. So here, let me get part of my payment now. Lie down!” Adena ordered with a smoldering look in her eyes.

Greta did as Adena commanded but took Adena by the hips, pulling her forward. “Here, come sit on my face, naughty girl.”

- - - - -
All four members of Dame IV met at Adena’s studio on Thursday night, all dressed in black turtlenecks and black pants, as Adena suggested. Greta also wore a black wide brim felt hat and Wilma a black bandana with small gold skulls and crossbones. Adena had also requested that Greta bring a pastel colored dress to change into for separate portraits she’d take after the band’s.

“Everyone, please sign this legal document for me, it gives me the rights to print and display your image. I have a separate page for each of you to complete.”

Once Adena finished snapping professional quality photos of Dame IV, Greta released the band to go home. “Okay, see you guys tomorrow night. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

“Have fun groping your girlfriend in the dark room, Greta!” Wilma turned and whooped, as the front door closed behind the group, and the other two members howled.

“Assholes!” Greta shouted back.

Adena just rolled her eyes at the friends’ childish antics. “Okay dear, go and change into your running gear first, then that pretty dress for me. I will take some photos of Greta-the-athlete, then some softer girly pictures of you. Oh, and don’t wear a bra nor shoes with the dress.”

Greta re-emerged a few minutes later wearing her marathon shorts, tank top, and bright orange Nike’s. The hat was off and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She also wore her ‘2018 Paris Marathon Medal’ to complete the athlete’s look, and Adena had her hold two small flags on poles, a German and French flag. “Perfect, I got some really neat shots of you. Now go and change again into the dress.”

Adena was stunned when she saw Greta in the sleeveless, pink linen dress. Her hair was down now, free flowing, and she had matching pink lipstick and Indigo blue eyeliner on. “Ah, you look beautiful, Greta,” now let’s get started on this set of portraits. Adena spent another hour capturing images of Greta in different poses, standing by a window, sitting on a wooden table, and lying on the floor, until she was satisfied with the results.

“Are these for your own personal use?” Greta winked at Adena. “Or, did my mum put you up to this?”

“Mhm, maybe. But you’ll see later,” Adena responded vaguely. “We are done. Now, go get ready so we can call it a night.”

Greta came back wearing street clothes again, and Adena secured the studio premises. The girls walked holding hands to the nearby metro station. They bid goodnight with a kiss and hopped on separate metro lines home.

Chapter Text

The day before the marathon had finally arrived and Greta was in the bathroom, finishing brushing her teeth and changing out of her pajamas. It was a little after 10 AM , when she heard knocking on her front door.

“Well hello there, entrez,” Greta gestured with her arm and held the door wide open.

“Merci. I come bearing gifts for the runner’s belly and her runaway knee.” Adena grinned, dropping one of the two backpacks she brought on the futon.

“Ah, I hope it’s a new knee to replace this ol’ broken one, hun,” Greta said, kissing Adena’s cheek.

Bopping the tip of Greta’s nose with her fingertip, “You know, I’m an artist not a magician.”

Hmmm, could have fooled me,” Greta’s eyebrows waggled and she smiled brightly.

A few days before the big race Greta had been tapering her training to get lots of needed rest. She was also consuming large amounts of carbs in preparation for the grueling run. She had cut out red meat, fried foods, dairy products, and fats. She had also taken the day off from work today, planning to eat simple carb-filled meals every two hours. This process had been all new to Adena, who had never dated nor known a marathon runner.

“Is it cookies, ‘cuz I’m famished for a chocolate chip cookie!”

Adena walked into the kitchen with one of her two backpacks. “Come, let me show you what I made us for lunch, snacks, and dinner. She unpacked four large plastic food containers on the counter. The first was filled with fragrant saffron rice, the second with vegetable pasta, the third with quinoa, and the forth had oatmeal and honey squares. “Everything is fresh, healthy, and full of carbs for you.”

“Wow, you must have been up real early making all this. Hope it wasn’t a problem.” Greta embraced Adena from behind, placing her chin on her shoulder.

“You know me, I was up early praying anyways. So, no bother at all, I just didn’t go crawling back into bed like usual. I wanted to be real tired tonight so I can go to sleep early when you do. We have an early morning tomorrow, participant #38886,” Adena said, holding up Greta’s race bib from the kitchen counter.

Placing her warm lips under Adena’s ear, Greta said, “You really spoil me, and I appreciate you so much.”

Adena turned in her arms and Greta kissed her chin, then her lips. “Okay, what do you want to eat first?” Adena asked coyly.

“Aha! Let’s start with the saffron rice. It still feels warm inside the container, wow, and smells divine,” Greta closed her eyes and took in a generous whiff, as Adena removed the lid off the rice and held it up to her nose. She dealt out two portions into a couple of plastic bowls and handed Greta one with a fork. The two went and sat on the green futon in the living room and savored their rice.

“So you’re going to carry a butt pack during the race with food?” Greta had some items strewn on the coffee table that peaked Adena’s curiously.

“Not food. I’ll be fueling my body with energy gels every hour during the run. Those packs of gel are full of electrolytes that will help me maintain minerals I lose through sweat,” she said pointing to the items. “The race officials will provide the water I’ll need, so I don’t have to also carry fluids.”

“Uh-huh, fascinating,” Adena stated matter-of-factly.

“Nah, you’re the fascinating one. Here, let me wash our empty bowls and we can go watch la télé from my bed. I need to rest and ice my knee as much as possible.”

“Mhm, is that your sneaky plan to get me upstairs?” Adena asked with a tilt of her head and eyes narrowed.

“Ah well...that is where my television is located. But you can stand by the closet and watch while I’m comfortably watching from the bed.” Greta teased, splashing some water towards Adena with her fingertips.

“Hey!”

- - - - -
Throughout the remainder of the day and into the night, Greta ate her small meals and Adena watched, picking at Greta’s bowls of food when she was hungry, too. The two laid in bed watching a rugby match on the t.v.

“I’ve never really understood this sport. I’d rather watch and play football, myself.”

“You played football? I cannot see it,” Greta asked with surprise, turning her body to face Adena.

Adena mirrored her position. “Yes...I used to play all the time as a kid with my neighbors and school friends. Then at age 10, my father forbade me to play anymore, saying ‘A young lady does not play boy games,’ and I had to take sewing and cooking lessons, instead,” bowing her head in disappointment.

“That’s sad...and very sexist. Bet it broke your heart.”

“Yes, but he went on monthly business trips out of our town. He was an Engineer and worked for the mineral mines across Teheran. Whenever he was gone, I snuck out and played,” Adena chuckled. “Maman would always cover for me and tell me when it was safe to go play at the park with my friends. She would bribe five-year-old Zareen with a chocolate bar to not tell Baba when he returned.”

“Ah, mums are the best, right?”

“Yes, they ARE really good.” Adena smiled, and the two took a moment to silently gaze deep into each other’s eyes.

Greta broke the silence and rubbed Adena’s hip, “You know what else is really good?...For tomorrow’s race, I mean. Something on my mind that’s...two separate words.” She held up two fingers between her and Adena.

“Uhmmm, I’m afraid to answer that,” Adena said as she was being pressed backwards into her pillow.

“I’ll give you some clues. First word is short and starts with ‘S’. The second word starts with an ‘O’, and if we’re lucky tonight, the first word will likely end in achieving that ‘O’ word. Greta grinned widely.

“Uh-huh? Ah, I got it! ‘S’ is for ‘Some’...and ‘O’ is for ‘Olives’ because you have food on the brain!” Pointing to her lover’s head, Adena giggled proudly and then made a silly face. “But, are they on your carbs list?”

“Very funny,” Greta held Adena down with one hand, and tickled her with the other.

“Ha, ha! No, noooo! I-I surrender...pleeeze!” Adena screamed while she fought off the tickling hand. “But won’t having sex break your pre-race concentration and wear you out? You need all the strength possible for tomorrow, remember, to be in the zone?”

“Au contraire, it will help me relax...we just have to keep it short and gentle tonight.” Greta pressed her soft lips to Adena’s and began to move her hand under her shirt.

“No...no, no, no!” Adena shook her head like a mother scolding her child and gently pushed Greta off of her. “You need your rest. Instead, I’m going to give you a shoulder massage and put some analgesic cream on your bad knee. Then, we’ll just simply go to sleep. I promise to...to reward you after the race, when we’re back home. I don’t want to be responsible for you not making the 3.5 hour mark.”

“But...post-run... I’ll probably just grab a shower and crash. It’ll take me a good 12-hour sleep to semi-recover.” Greta whined.

“That’s okay, big baby. You can be strong and have willpower tonight. We’ll have fun Sunday morning, okay? It will be extra special, then.”

“Okay, I guess,” Greta pouted and turned onto her back.

“Now, since this match ended, let’s see if we can find something better to watch on the télé.

- - - - -
Greta kissed Adena goodbye and walked off to join the huge mob of runners at the starting lineup. It was almost eight o’clock and she was anxious for the marathon to begin. This would be a great test of endurance, but Greta felt confident she would prevail with all of her hard work and training behind her. Her weak knee was wrapped in a knee sleeve to stabilize it and keep it warm.

The booming voice of the 2019 Grand Marshal broadcasted over the vibrating loudspeakers, “Runners, one minute to race time!” Greta turned around one last time, stretching her neck to find Adena. She saw her behind the metal barricades, standing with all the other spectators waving at the runners. A moment later, a loud air pistol sounded and the multitude of running feet hit the payment, pushing forward out of the gates.

Adena cheered loudly and held up a hand painted sign, ‘Go Greta, Go!’ proudly, as the blonde disappeared in a blur. She now had over three hours to kill before she had to be at the finish line again. So, she rolled up her homemade poster and headed four blocks down the street to a large coffee house with the good WiFi.

Adena entered the busy establishment and found a small table in a corner of the smoke filled room. Pulling out her laptop, she planned on answering emails and finishing editing her portraits. The Paris gallery showing was two weeks away and she needed to get her best photos to the printshop for mounting. However, twenty minutes into her work, she was interrupted by an unwelcomed voice.

“Well, well. What a small world.”

Adena looked up in disbelief, “Coco?”

“Yes, you remember my name,” the small-framed woman sneered.

“What are you doing here at such a crowded cafe house, on the day of the big marathon, no less? I would think one would avoid downtown Paris this morning.”

“I ask the same of you, mon chéri. May I sit and join you?” Coco asked as she pulled out the extra chair and sat, before Adena could respond. “My brother and sister-in-law are here from Bordeaux, racing today. They asked me to come cheer them on, so...here I am bright an early on a Saturday morning...in, such a crowded cafe, as you say.” Coco pointed to Adena, “You remember them, we spent that glorious long weekend at their cottage a few years ago. Our room had the clawfoot bathtub next to the big bed? Hmmm, I can still remember the rose petals floating in the water,” she added with eyes narrowed.

Adena shrugged her shoulders and remained silent, so Coco continued. “You know, they announced that there are 55,000 runners and 250,000 spectators at this event, and here we are, bumping into each other in a huge mob of Parisians. Isn’t it something?” Coco looked Adena up and down then the corners of her mouth lifted slightly.

“Oh, it’s definitely something...yes,” Adena said under her breath as she turned away from Coco.”

“And, you?” Coco turned her head slowly from side-to-side, scanning the room. “Where is that American girlfriend of yours? Is she racing today? Certainly she didn’t let you come to Paris...all alone, because she seems like the jealous type.” There was a sarcastic tone in her voice.

Adena wiggled in her seat and responded curtly, “We are not together anymore,” glancing past coco’s right shoulder.

“Ahhh, so the rumors are true, you are single again and living in Paris. Very well.” Coco grinned in satisfaction and Adena turned her eyes away from her, huffing. “She was a bit of a hothead and loose cannon, is my first impression. I wondered what you saw in her. I mean, look at the way she bullied me into meeting her at that cafe back in October. Gee, so infantile!”

Slapping the tabletop with the palms of her hands, Adena was done with Coco’s abrasive comments and immediately snapped back. “First of all, Kat is not a bully. She may be impulsive sometimes, but she doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body. And, she’s certainly not a child!”

Coco took a moment to respond while she studied Adena’s demeanor. “Hmm, defending her even after the breakup. If only I would have been so lucky, tsk-tsk.”

“You know what, Coco?” Adena rolled her eyes and held her hands in fists, “I have to go now. Enjoy the marathon.”

Adena started hastily shoving her things into her backpack, but Coco reached out and grabbed her arm to stop her from leaving, “Oh mon chéri, don’t be like that. Let’s go get some breakfast at that bistro across the street. We have a lot of time to kill before this race ends. Let’s do it, like old times? I want to talk to you about a business proposition.”

“I am NOT interested in any business opportunities that you are offering. I’m very busy with two upcoming gallery showings. One of which will take me out of Europe. So, have a nice day and life, Coco. Give my best to your brother.”

Adena stood up, gathered her things, and walked away from the table as Coco watched her leave.

“Au revoir, Adena. Hope some day you find what you’re looking for in life.”

- - - - -
The time on her cellphone read 10:49. Adena guessed Greta would be back at the finish line within the next 45 to 60 minutes, and she wrapped up her work and shut down her laptop. She had relocated to a juice bar a few blocks south of the cafe where she had left Coco.

Arriving near the finish line, Adena slipped on a steep grassy embankment and fell on her knees, staining her yoga pants in fresh mud. “Oh shoot!” She dusted herself off and embarrassingly smiled at a group of people that had witnessed her misstep. She then sat on a park bench under a blue, sunny sky. At 11 AM, her phone’s caller I.D. announced a call from Firuze.

“Allo, Firuze? You are calling so very early, my friend.”

“Yes, you know me Adena. I’m always an early bird. Where are you? It sounds like you’re surrounded by a big, boisterous crowd.” Through the phone’s receiver, Firuze could hear the ruckus of the event around Adena. There was loud music playing and people screaming and cheering, as tired runners reached the threshold of their journey’s end.

“That’s exactly where I’m at, in the chaos of a marathon race. A friend is running the Paris Marathon and I’m at the finish line waiting for her to come in. What’s up?”

Firuze told her of some interesting news. “Yesterday afternoon, Scarlet Magazine advertised a freelance opportunity for an outside photographer to do a confidential photoshoot for them. Apparently, they don’t have an in-house photographer at the moment to do this.”

Adena listened, acknowledging with, “Uh-huh?”

Firuze took a breath and continued, “They are asking that the shoot take place within the same weeks you’ll be here, in the City. So, I’ve already put your name into the bid pool, Adena.”

Adena remained quiet on the line, and Firuze could just make out her breathing on her end. Adena’s mind was lost in thought of what it meant to step into Scarlet again, most likely meeting Kat face-to-face.

“My friend, I know you are apprehensive of bumping into Kat Edison there. But the job is just a day and it pays really well, Adena. Think of this as the opportunity that you can’t pass up,” Firuze explained. “It would be so good for your resume, especially if you ever decided to return to New York long term.”

“Uh...yes it would be great professionally. I...I should do it, yes.”

“The ‘Request For Proposal’ has one...Jane Sloan listed as the internal contact. Apparently, Ms. Sloan is working directly with the Magazine’s Editor and Chief on this story. So, I’ll call her first thing Monday morning to get more information for you.”

“Yes, alright,” Adena nervously responded to Firuze.

“Adena, do you want me to ask Ms. Sloan to speak to Kat about the possible personal conflict you both may face? I don’t know if Kat is involved in any way on this photoshoot or story, but I can see what information Ms. Sloan delivers when we talk.”

“No, that won’t be necessary, Firuze. Kat and I are adults and mature professionals. Jane is well aware of our past. She will most likely approach Kat with the news when she see’s me as a contender. Let’s just let it be for now.”

“Very good. Also, I have secured your living arrangements with Vanessa Romo, the Women’s gallery owner, as you suggested. I met her at this glamorous apartment above her gallery to sign some papers. She keeps it vacant most of the time, using it only for family and friends who visit. Adena, you are going to die when you see it!”

“Oh, I can only imagine how fabulous it is. Vanessa has impeccable taste and the Romo’s are a very wealthy family. I plan to make it a good three-weeks in that flat. You’re welcome to come stay a night or two,” Adena genuinely offered.

“Perhaps I should trade with you. You can stay in my humble abode with my family, and I’ll stay in the over extravagant condo.”

“Yes!” Adena laughed. “Okay Firuze, tomorrow I’m emailing you the 36 photographs I’ll be showing in Chelsea on May 6th through the 10th. You know what to do. Please have Jasper print and mat them as I usually like, and he can hold them until I arrive May 3rd. We’ll get it all hung and set up in the gallery the following few days.”

The two friends laughed and shared a few more stories before bidding farewell. Adena took a cleansing breath and situated herself closer to the finish line.

- - - - -
Greta finished the race well under the four-hour mark, at ‘03:41:22’ to be exact, as Adena recorded the event, for good measure, with a photo of Greta crossing the finish line.

“Ayeeee, so proud of you, babe!” The photographer quickly patted Greta on the back and kissed her sweaty cheek.

“Oh...my...god! I’m gonna collapse if I stop, Adena. I need to keep moving around. W-walk...walk with me, please,” the exhausted marathoner spoke, chest heaving as she panted, light-headed and disoriented.

An event official came over to Greta’s side and placed a shiny race medal around her neck, “félicitations!”

“You did it, joon, you achieved your goal, and you got another medal to display for your hard work. Let’s go get you a bottle of water and orange slices from that tent, then head home.”

- - - - -
As the two girls laid in bed watching movies the rest of the afternoon, a freshly showered Greta asked, “How was your morning while I ran?”

”Well...my day was like your day, dear. Like a marathon!

“Yeah, it’s too long of a wait for the runners to finish, and can get boring and tiring for the spectators, too. Sorry, but I really appreciate you being my support and biggest fan at the event.”

“No, no that part was fine. I sat in a restaurant and people watched, and also worked editing pictures on my laptop. I got a lot of work done and was very productive while you ran. It’s just that in between I had an unpleasant run-in with an ex...person that I really would rather never see again. I also slipped and fell in some mud in front of a multitude of people, hurting my ego more than anything. And, my New York manager called again. There’s a tight deadline and I still owe her a bunch of documents and the photographs I’m going to use for the Women’s Art Gallery. She also has a new proposition for another job while I’m in town.”

“Oh, what is it?” Greta’s eyes were heavy and she was yawning continuously.

“I’ll spare you the details tonight and we’ll talk about it tomorrow. Goodnight. Adena reached over and kissed Greta.

Chapter Text

In her comfy sleep shorts and baggie t-shirt, the Persian artist sat on one of the padded stools of her kitchen counter, reviewing a mass of portraits for what felt like the 50th time. Adena, a relentless perfectionist, was always working on her projects until the last possible minute. She poured herself another cup of strong, black Arabian coffee and cut another piece of homemade date bread to eat. “Well baby, this is as good as they get, goodbye,” Adena whispered to herself.

Opening her Dropbox folder she selected the 36 photographs to upload. She then sent a web link via email to Firuze. As the familiar swoosh sound resonated over the laptop speaker, Adena felt a great weight being carried off of her with the exiting message. “And now, one more task for this morning and I’ll feel so much better.” Adena opened up the folder marked ‘A_ElAmin_InspirationalWomen2019’and plugged the USB flash drive into the USB port on her computer.

Adena leaned back with coffee mug in hand and smiled. She now had everything she needed to get printed for her Sorbonne showing, and planned on visiting the photo lab after lunch today. But, just as she was shutting down her laptop, she remembered one last thing she failed to do. She re-opened her Dropbox folder and added one more portrait to the file for Firuze and sent the manager a follow up email. “Dear friend, disregard the previous attachment of photographs for May 6th. This one, with 37 files, is the one to use. Talk soon, Merci!”

- - - - -
The cool water washed over the dishes and utensils in the kitchen sink. As Adena dried her hands on her ‘I love NYC’ dish-towel, a familiar groan came from the direction of her bed.

“Good lazy Sunday morning to you! How’s the champ feeling?” Adena walked over and snuggled real close to Greta, pressing their noses together.

“The champ...well, she’s feeling like a steamroller ran her over...aaaargh! My knee is killing me...please take the dagger out of the knee cap, will you babe!” Greta replied with tears of pain in her eyes.

“Oh no, I’m so sorry. Let me get you a baggie filled with ice and your pain killers out of your duffel bag,” Adena sympathetically replied.

“Ouch, fucking ligaments!” Greta’s whines and cries were heard loudly across the small apartment, as Adena rushed to get her relief.

“Here, take these but eat some of this cheese and date bread before. You can’t take the meds on an empty stomach, remember? Would you also like a coffee?”

“Yes please...and thanks. I’m going to have to go to the clinic because I’ve never felt such pain like this in my life. It’s unbearable!”

- - - - -
Half hour later and the anti-inflammatory drugs and icing started to work, providing Greta with some alleviation from the pain. Adena studied the tattered woman’s face and thought breaking the news to her about Scarlet Magazine’s photo op would be too much at the moment. That news would be better left for another day, because of its Kat-complications and Greta-feels. So, Adena was hoping Greta’s current state would keep her from remembering what she told her after yesterday’s marathon, regarding her new proposition for another New York job.

But, as luck would have it, Firuze phoned Adena while Greta iced her knee next to her on the couch. “Allo?” Adena fumbled with her cellular.

Firuze called with a technical question about the NYC showing and to confirm she had received and was able to open up the Dropbox folder. “These are wonderful, Adena, truly wonderful. I will have everything set for you when you arrive.”

“Merci Firuze, see you in four weeks.” Adena ended the call and put her phone on the couch next to her. She was dreading looking up at Greta because she knew the question was coming.

“Was that your New York manager with the new proposition?”

And, there it was. Adena felt a bit of a gut punch as she took a breath to answer Greta. “It was about the photo file I sent her this morning...But maybe we should talk about that new matter, too.” Adena plastered a smile on her face, but she knew Greta could see right through her.

“Is this about Kat?” Greta asked with a deadpan look on her face.

Adena swallowed, pursed her lips, and responded. “Yes, it involves Kat.”

“Okay, I’m listening,” Greta laced her fingers and laid both hands on her lap, eyes on hers.

Adena sat up and explained the situation of Scarlet Magazine advertising for a freelance opportunity for the photoshoot, the lack of an in-house photographer to do the shoot, and the monumental opportunity this ad hoc job could have on her curriculum vitae. All awhile, Greta didn’t say a word, just nodded attentively. And finally, Adena said the name, “Kat.”

“So, you see Greta, it’s an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often to a young photographer like me. I’d be crazy not to take it if they offer it to me, right?”

“Yeah, you’d be crazy not to try again,” the blonde answered snidely, looking Adena up and down.

“Wha-, what does that imply?” Adena held her mouth open waiting for an answer.

Greta held an open palm across her face, shrugged and let out a small, awkward laugh. “Do I need to spell it out for you?” She dropped her hand and lifted her head and eyes towards Adena.

Adena thought for a moment as her eyes darted across the room and back at the German’s. “Huh?” Greta’s eyes were blazing with anger, a look Adena had never seen on her.

“Oh Adena...you need to get your emotions in order and just STOP PLAYING WITH MINE!” Greta shouted the last part of her statement, catching Adena totally off-guard.

“Keep your voice down, Greta! I haven’t done anything wrong to deserve you yelling,” Adena’s rebuttal included an incredulous look back at her guest.

Greta paused, biting and moistening her lips. She checked herself for a brief moment then asked, “Pray tell Adena, what are you going to do when your eyes and hers catch, again? When she invites you back into her pad, the two of you all alone, her with a weak, lust-filled mind and you still in love with her?” Greta waited with folded arms for the photographer’s response.

Adena shook her head and her eyes became bloodshot with hurt and anger. “Maybe you should leave. This is not a good time to finish this conversation, with both of us being irrational and angry.”

“Yeah, perhaps I WILL.” Greta stumbled off of the couch, the half-melted bag of ice falling to the faded parquet floor. She grimaced as she hobbled away, gathering her things and stuffing them halfheartedly inside her Adidas duffle bag. She dropped her cellphone from the bed and it bounced off of her foot, sliding under the nightstand. As she bent down to look for it her weak knee popped and she let out a cry, “Ohhhh, fuck!” She fell back on Adena’s bed holding her knee, in agony.

Adena took pitty on the her and reluctantly offered, “Here, let me reach under there for you,” bending down and retrieving the item and laying it next to Greta’s hand. Adena sat on the bed next to the woman and they both were silent for a good few minutes, Adena looking straight ahead and Greta looking straight up at the ceiling.

Greta finally broke the silence. “Look, I’m going to call my friends to come assist me getting down the three flights of stairs. I won’t be able to do it by myself in this condition, my knee is really tender and swollen. So, I’m sorry I’m going to have to stay here until they can come get me.”

“Is fine,” Adena replied barely audible.

- - - - -
With Greta being loaded into an Uber by Danae and her girlfriend, Adena turned around and walked back into her apartment building. She was glad to be left alone but kept replaying that bad situation back in her head. She knew there was no other way around it, that Greta had to find out, and that she would be upset. Adena just didn’t expect the spectacle that transpired to end so emotional, with Greta reacting so angrily.

She was back inside her kitchen and picked up her phone. “Allo, Zareen-joon, it’s me. Call me back when you get this message. I really need to talk.”

Chapter Text

The Sorbonne Gallery showing was scheduled for the following night, on Wednesday, April 15th, at 7:00 PM. Adena spent all Tuesday morning and afternoon at the University’s Modern Gallery setting up for this opening. Her work theme was ‘People’ and was entitled, ‘Femmes Inspirantes: Ma Vie Derrière la Caméra’. She had 36 separate pieces delivered to the location, ready to hang up. Luckily, the University provided each artist with two graduate student helpers, who worked pro bono and received college credits for their participation.

Adena instructed the two students assigned to her, “I’m going to first place each portrait up against the wall, on the floor below where I want it displayed. Once I’m satisfied with the order and presentation, I will then ask you both to assist me with the hanging on the wall. Each set of pictures has its own small descriptive placard that will be underneath. I will adhere those to the wall tomorrow afternoon, before the show commences.”

“Oui, oui,” the less shy female student responded and the more reserved male counterpart shook his head in agreement.

The female student faced Adena saying, “May I ask you a question, Mademoiselle?”

“Oui,” Adena smiled and briefly laid her hand on her shoulder.

“Why not put up the placards tonight, so tomorrow there are no worries?”

“That’s a great question, Amélie. Artists are VERY protective of their works, therefore I do not want inquisitive eyes reading up on my work until it is the right time,” Adena chuckled.

- - - - -
It was a very long and busy day. By nine in the evening, an exhausted Adena was very satisfied with her layouts. She opened up her laptop to briefly send a group-email reminder of tomorrow’s opening reception to her friends and supporters. She hoped to have a good turnout of friendly faces.

Adena had brought with her workout clothes in a backpack, thinking she’d go for a quick jog through the beautiful campus once her prep-work was complete. But she was too tired to follow through and just wanted to go home. So she conversed with the two students one last time for the night.

“Merci Garette and Amélie, for all your assistance. I hope to see you both tomorrow night at the showing. There will be free food provided behind the scenes for all the artists and assistants, so do come at 6 PM for that.” Adena remembered how happy the notion of free food made her, when she was a starving student, so she wanted to make sure her two helpers took advantage of that perk. “If you cannot make it for six o’clock, the opening reception is at 7 PM sharp. Bonne nuit!”

Adena grabbed her coat and purse and walked out with a group of gallery employees and artists, into the crisp mid-April night headed to the metro station near campus.

“May I walk with you, Ms. El-Amin?” A man’s voice called to her from behind, as Adena rounded the gallery building’s parking lot.

“Sure,” Adena turned around and shook the man’s hand. He was wearing an identical University gallery I.D. badge as she wore around her neck. “I’m sorry, have we met before?”

”My name’s Rami Abizaid. I am a PhD student at Sorbonne, and I’m featured in the room next to yours in tomorrow’s showing. My photo theme is ‘Isolated Objects’ featuring balck-and-white landscapes and village scenes of small, unknown Middle Eastern towns. It’s a pleasure to meet you, I am a fan of yours.”

“The pleasure is also mine, Rami. Oh wow, I look forward to seeing your work tomorrow night. My nomadic life has allowed me to visit such. . . wonderful places in the past., and I’ll probably recognized most of those villages you photographed.” Adena said with gleefulness and flailing arms.

“Forgive me for being so forward, but I once read how you traveled the world with your passion for photography, but then you took a long hiatus in America. . . Is that correct?”

Adena looked the young artist in the eyes and her smile faded, “Yes and no. I did move to the the United States for a bit. My work fell into. . . an involuntary hiatus, of sorts. I just had creative block, is all.”

“Ahhh, I totally understand that. Being uninspired is unfortunate, but a normal part of an artist’s life. During that moment we tend to feel like we hit rock bottom, feel unworthy, perhaps even take it out on the people we love the most, no? But when it all passes, when we can see beyond the fog, we persevere and come out as strong creatively as before.” Rami laughed and waved his hands in front of him.

“Yes. . . I- I was guilty of that a time or two, myself,” Adena replied, as Kat’s face appeared on her mind.

“Well, I’ve had to apologize to my wife several times for being a moody photographer.” Rami briefly reached over, grasped Adena’s forearm, and gave it a light reassuring squeeze. “I’m sure your loved ones understood too, once you explained the situation and asked for forgiveness.” Adena didn’t answer and just kept shuffling through the campus lawn towards the city street ahead.

The new friends shared more stories of their profession, families and cultural experiences, as they reached the metro station. Reloading their metro passes at the automated machines in the terminal, the two artists hopped on the purple line together, continuing their conversation until Adena bid farewell, exiting after the sixth stop.

“See you tomorrow, Rami. Have a good night!”

- - - - -
Adena arrived at home exhausted, laying down all her bags and checking her phone for any messages. She crashed into bed after washing up, changing, and concluding her night prayers. She had added some extra prayers for tomorrow’s showing and for all the artists involved, also adding a prayer for Greta and their relationship to mend and continue amicably.

Before her eyes grew too heavy, Adena reached for her cellphone one last time and looked at both Greta’s and Kat’s Instagram feeds. The two women were very different, but both beautiful in Adena’s eyes. And, though she had complicated relationships with them, Adena was thankful that her life’s journey had crossed paths with each one them.

As Adena scrolled some more on her phone, there was a soft knock on her door. . . “For goodness sakes, it’s 2 in the morning, who is it!”. . . Adena sat up and called out towards the door.

“It’s me, Deena, please let me in!” A very familiar voice begged on the other side.

“No, no. It’s too late and I have to get some rest for my art. . . I’m so inspired right now, I cannot stop the momentum! You must understand, joon!”

“It’s not too late. . . It’s never too late, Deena. What we had was special. . . Let me back in - let me back inside! I’m waiting for you in New York!”

The loud ‘thump’ of her cellphone falling out of her hand, onto the wooden floor, caused Adena’s eyes to suddenly pop open, realizing she had only just been dreaming. She laid quietly, motionless in the darkness, as thoughts of Kat washed over her.

- - - - -
Just before 7 PM, all featured photographers, assistants, and gallery employees were gathered in the kitchen area of the gallery, finishing up with their complimentary meal. The Art Gallery Curator, Jean Gustave, stood up on a wooden chair and whistled, asking the attentive group to proceed to the main reception area for presentations. The professionals entered through a doorway marked ‘Stage’ and the others went in a different route to join the visitors assembled in the reception room. There were chairs in a row on stage for the featured artists, and a podium situated to the side for the Curator to use for presentations.

Mr. Gustave welcomed the crowd to tonight’s opening showing. “Attention, s'il vous plaît. We are all very honored and excited to present to you tonight, on our stage, all 10 of the featured artists.” The gallery crowd clapped joyfully. “As you can see, they are made up of men and women from all nationalities, who make France their home. Our gallery holds regular exhibitions showcasing up-and-coming young photographers, as well as seasoned experts from around France. Multifaceted themes are featured every month in all five of the building’s large viewing rooms. Tonight you will see the works of these talented artists seated behind me, two themes per room. The five photo themes for the gallery’s next 30-days are: Amphibians; City Skylines; Isolated Objects; People; and Textures. We hope you enjoy the show and take time to speak with each artist at his or her exhibit location.”

Adena was presenting in the room of ‘People’ along with another Parisian artist, and she stood and headed over to that room. She had hung up all her placards and re-checked all her work earlier in the night, so she felt ready and confident. She knew a number of friends and supporters were present tonight, as Adena had scanned the audience from the stage looking for familiar faces. She saw the usual suspects, Odette and wife Valeree, friends Esmée and Antoinette, her landlord Laurent and his wife Inga, her botanique subjects Vignetta and Nicolett, and a couple more friends and acquaintances from the art world. But, she did not see the person she really was looking for.

As the night moved forward, the onlookers wondered in the gallery from room to room, viewing the displays, conversing with each other, and meeting each artist featured. By 9:30 PM most of the patrons and students had left. Adena had a lull in foot traffic in her area, and she slipped away quickly to use the ladies room. Upon her return, she recognized the familiar silhouette of the young woman standing with her back towards her. It was Greta, admiring her artwork

- - - - -
Adena had not seen nor heard from Greta in eight days, since their altercation in her apartment. Neither woman had made a prior effort to contact the other, both hurt and hesitant. But now, Adena was both shocked and relieved that the musician had made it to tonight’s show opening. She slowly approached the tall, slim girl from behind and reached with two fingers to brush her delicately on the shoulder, simultaneously speaking in her calm Adena voice, “Hello there, I am so glad you came.” Greta turned around slowly, wide eyed, stepping forward to give Adena a brief, loose hug.

“I’m sorry I’m late. . .I. . .I had some prior business to attend to. But I didn’t want to miss your big night, especially since you were there to support me for my big marathon.” Greta spoke with sincere, timid eyes. But her expression was somewhat somber. What Adena didn’t know was that Greta had painstakingly tried on 12 different outfits before coming to see her, that she had been convinced earlier by Danea that attending tonight was indeed a good idea, and that she nervously hid out in the gallery’s lobby for 25 minutes before finding Adena’s work.

“Oh, it’s never too late to show your support for someone,” Adena responded with her mouth quirked up and hands at her side.

Greta gave her a small smile, “Well, since the gallery closes in 30 minutes, can you give me a quick rundown on all your portraits?”

The corners of Adena’s mouth turned up more and her eyes lit up. “Of course, a private showing by the artist is available to you, anytime,” she said and tenderly took Greta by the hand, walking her to the first picture.

- - - - -
After the gallery closed, Adena suggested a stroll through campus for some hot chocolate at a nearby bistro. Greta happily agreed.

“Your photographs were all so lovely. I really enjoyed seeing the large black-and-white of your mum holding baby Adena. You were such a chubby little girl, with such full curly hair,” Greta chuckled. “And, a teenage Zareen dressed like Brittany Spears was classic, made me laugh so hard.”

Adena laughed and said, “Oh, I had fun with this project, for sure!”

“But. . .again, the one of me in that linen pink dress was truly a surprise. Thank you once more, I feel really touhed to know you find me inspiring.” Greta searched Adena’s face as she spoke.

“You’re welcome, Greta. I’ve made the mistake of not expressing my true feelings to others before when it comes to my art and inspirations. So, I’m trying to be better about this and letting it show.” Adena reached for her mug and took a sip, looking down, then lifting her eyes to meet Greta’s.

“Well, again, I’m really deeply moved by the gesture. You didn’t have to do that.” There was a moment of uncomfortable silence between the two, so to lighten the mood Greta added, “Oh, and the girls of Dame IV will be thrilled to know their ugly mugs also made it on your walls,” she snickered. “I’ll have to bring them to the gallery one of these nights so they can see how well they clean up, no?”

Adena reached down into her purse and pulled out a business card from the gallery with times of operation, and handed it across the table. “Absolutely, this exhibition will be featured for the next four weeks. They are welcome to come anytime they’re free.” The girls’ hands brushed as Greta took the business card from Adena’s extended hand.

“Good, good!” Greta put the card in her jacket pocket and played with her napkin a bit. “Sooo. . .tonight’s a work-night and it’s already 11:25, I’m gonna have to say goodbye soon,” the blonde said, looking down at her iWatch. When she looked back up Adena’s eyes were misty and she was studying Greta’s face.

“You know joon, I’m really sorry about that. . . that thing the other day. . . I’m really sorry for a lot of things.” Greta tilted her head and Adena could see her bottom lip quivering, trying hard not to cry. Her hands were now on her lap, under the table, and Adena reached out, laying her arms across the table, palms up and offering her hands to Greta.

Greta gave a small smile, bringing her arms up and reaching, both hands grasping onto Adena’s. “I’m sorry, too.”

Chapter Text

It was mid-Friday morning and chore day. As Adena was taking her clean clothes out of the washer in the kitchen and hanging the last item to dry, she received a call from the Sorbonne Gallery. She was informed of absentmindedly leaving her backpack and fresh clothes in the gallery’s ladies’ room. “Oh, Merci, I will stop by the gallery later this afternoon to retrieve it. Please leave it for me with the security guard at the front desk. Au revoir.”

Adena put down her phone and empty laundry basket and glanced up at the old brass wall clock. She figured it was lunchtime in Tehran and a good time to FaceTime her mother, as they had not spoken in a while. With her laptop in hand, she contacted her Maman and, after a few rings, the gray haired matriarch answered. “Salam Maman! Chetori?”

“Khoobee? I was just thinking of you as your favorite casserole is out of the oven for lunch! I’ve made Tahchin.” Adena’s mom pointed her tablet’s camera at the Golden Iranian rice cake, “See it? I’ve also folded in all the vegetables you adore.”

“Oh looks so good. . .how I wish I could be there to enjoy it with you. It looks marvelously delicious!” The young Iranian gestured a chef’s kiss at her mother.

“You sound cheerful Adena. Did Zareen tell you to call me?”

“Zareen always reminds me Maman, but I wanted to call you today and tell you I had a really good gallery opening on Wednesday. Did you go to the website I emailed you and look up the information? Some of my pictures are featured online, including the one of you and me as a baby. You’re famous now, Maman!”

The two El-Amin women enjoyed a good laugh over the screen and spoke for a good long while. They chatted about the aunts, uncles, cousins, Maman’s old neighbors, and even the family bakery business. Adena filled her in some more about the Sorbonne Gallery showing and her Parisian friends.

“Yes Maman, Paris is being good to me, and. . . actually great, so far. But I wanted to mention I’m leaving for New York City in two weeks, to show these same photographs there.

“Oh?” Maman sounded surprised, which confirmed that Zareen had not spilled the beans to their mother about Adena’s personal business.

“Yes, my manager Firuze has scheduled me for a second showing of this same work at the ‘New York Women’s Gallery’ in Chelsea. . .uhhh, an area of Manhattan. It is a very wealthy neighborhood and some very important and influential people from the art world will be present at the opening.”

“Well, then I am very proud of you, dokhtaram. Very, very proud.” Maman held her right hand over her heart as she spoke.

“Merci, aziz-am.”

“And”. . . The wise woman narrowed her eyes. . .”Will you see and talk to Katherine?”

Adena wasn’t shocked by the question. She presumed her mother would ask it as soon as she heard about her travel plans. “It’s a bit more complicated than that.” Adena took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and sighed loudly, propping her chin on her hand.

“Look at me child,” Maman commanded.

Adena opened her eyes and stared down at the laptop keys for a moment, then up into her mother’s eyes. “You see, Kat’s not going to have much of a choice because I’m also doing a paid photoshoot at Scarlet Magazine one whole day.”

“That’s good, no? The paid part and the seeing Katherine again?” The daughter shrugged her shoulders softly as she bit her bottom lip, reminding her mother of when Adena was a little girl and had a dilemma at school.

“Child, if Katherine offers. . .would you like to get back together romantically?” Maman raised a brow and got closer to her screen awaiting her daughter’s response.

Adena finally answered, “Well yeah, for sure. I still am in love with her, Maman,” she confided. “I cannot suppress nor deny it. My heart and head won’t let me. I. . .I just can’t stop thinking or dreaming about her.” The young girl’s eyes swelled up with tears.

“Then joon, you know what needs to happen when you go back overseas. You two have to have a frank, emotions-all-out on the table, conversation. Even if her reply is heartbreaking for you.” Adena sits up taller, eyes wider listening to her mother. “Yes. I’m saying you will have to prepare for a good and a bad outcome. And if it’s bad, it will hurt. . .oh, you know it. But you must finally know, Adena. You have to have closure, child. You cannot move on in life without closure.”

Adena shook her head as she listened to good advice. “But there’s. . . Mmmm. . . another complication in my life now. I have been seeing another woman for three months, here in Paris. She is a new friend, Zareen met her when she was here. . .and, her name is Greta Von Stein. . .and, she is lovely and a good person.” Maman shook her head slightly and crossed her hands on the kitchen table to show she was ready to listen.

Adena explained how she met Greta, who she was and what she did for a living. How their relationship was really easy and lovely, having only recently argued for the first time. “It was after Greta found out about me returning to New York and seeing Kat.”

“Dokhtaram, are you two physically and romantically involved?”

“Um. . . Yes, we are,” the young artist responded shyly to her mother. “She treats me with dignity and respect, Maman. . . It’s mutual, really. We love each other’s company. She even wrote me a song, isn’t that sweet?” Adena beamed.

“Yes. . .BUT?” Maman interjected.

Adena looked up at her ceiling and back down at her mother, sighing. “But. . . I’m still in love with-“

“Katherine Edison,” Maman finished the sentence for Adena.

Adena ran both her hands through her hair questioning, “Can you be in love with two people at the same time?”

The older woman thought for a moment then answered, “Yes, I think so. I never told you, nor your sister, this story of how I fell in love with a handsome fellow when I went to school. His name was Farrokh. He was 17 and in the boys’ school in the building next to ours. I was 16 and my parents were already interviewing suitors for me. When I told your Mamani I did not want any other suitors, she told me your Babayi had already found me a good prospect, that I’d meet him the next few weeks.”

“Was it Baba?”

“Yes, it was your Baba. He was 23 and already an engineer living in Tehran. In the meantime, this crush of mine would secretly leave me love notes in the cracked wall between the playgrounds. I would take them home and read them under the covers of my room at night. My sister Soraya knew, since we shared a bed, and helped me sneak off one late night to meet with him. Soraya liked his older brother and the four of us went to a park and talked. He was my first kiss, you know?”

“Maman, I cant believe you’re telling me this!” Adena giggled.

“Yes child, you’re 29 and old enough to find out your Maman was also a rebel,” she chuckled.

“So, what happened to Farrokh, because we know how this story ends.”

“His family moved away three months later, and he and his brother were sent to British boarding school. I cried so much, joon. His father was a higher-up in the Iranian police and got a job elsewhere. . .moved the whole extended family of nine from our town. So, I ended up seeing your father and other suitors for another four years at my house. And Baba and I eventually married.”

“Wow, it’s good for Baba but not for Farrokh,” Adena joked.

“Yes, and to answer your previous question, it is possible to romantically love two people at once. I did for many years, even after you were born I thought about my crush from school.”

“You should look Farrokh up now, try to find him. See if he’s single, no?”

“Oh, this old woman is done with courtship. Now I just wait to be rewarded with grandchildren by my two young, beautiful daughters,” Maman laughed.

“Well, then you better inform Zareen to hurry up with that,” Adena huffed with irritation.

Maman paused and tried to interpret Adena’s body language, as she slumped her shoulders and bowed her head slightly. “What is it child?”

“What if Kat’s my Farrokh? I don’t want to regret not trying again.”

“Then you must go to her and ask. . . have the uncomfortable conversation. But be prepared to deal with the outcome, whether good or bad.”

“And what about Greta. . . I don’t want to be hurtful. . . I do care for her,” Adena said genuinely.

“You must be honest with Greta, too. . . have the talk. It’s gonna be a bitter pill for her to swallow, and expect for her to be hurt, especially if she is in love with you. Nobody likes rejection, my child. Hopefully your friendship will stay intact. . . or it may crumble. If the relationship ends, then you’ll always have some fond memories of Greta to reflect on. And, maybe someday you too will share them with your children when you are 60!” The two women chuckled in unison. Remember, heartbreak will make you wiser some day.”

“Merci Maman, this is why I love you so much. I’m having dinner with Greta tonight and will talk to her then.”

Chapter Text

Before Adena and Greta parted two nights ago, they made plans to go to dinner. The prior conflict and eight day separation had strained their relationship a bit, and although the couple had yet to comment on the nature of their relationship, the women were too invested in their special bond to let it become estranged. So both were hoping to restore what they had, agreeing to slow things up sexually for now.

The agreement for tonight was, Greta would text Adena to come over to her apartment after she arrived from work, and they’d decide what fancied their palate at that time. So, Adena waited for the message and planned to briefly stop at the University on her way to Greta’s, to pick up the backpack.

‘Knock, knock, knock’. . . Greta heard and scurried to let Adena in. “Hello!” The two women exchanged greetings and a hug.

“Hey. . . What’s in the backpack, you staying tonight?” The blonde pointed and asked in a surprised tone, thinking Adena had brought overnight clothes.

“Oh, just my clean workout clothes and jogging sneakers I left at the gallery the other night. I just passed by the University to retrieve it,” Adena played off the misunderstanding to save Greta any embarrassment.

“Oh, good. Um. . . .just leave it here and we’ll get it after dinner? No need to burden yourself with it all night.” Greta said taking the knapsack away from Adena an propping it up on one of her kitchen chairs.

Adena smiled and nodded, “Okay, thank you.” She had sweaty palms and butterflies in her stomach, as she had come prepared to talk to Greta about Kat, New York, and their current relationship situation. But only wanted to bring the sensitive subject up when the moment was right.

- - - - -
It had been a good night for the girls, eating dinner at ‘Lettres D’amour’ bistro and afterwards walking by the Seine River, taking the stone steps down into the garden which bordered the water. The night was clear and the sky was lit up with so many bright stars that Greta mentioned it reminded her of a Christmas tree. They laughed and shared recent stories as they sat on a metal bench. Adena had ‘the talk’ in the back of her mind but didn’t want to ruin the current special moment they were having. So, she buried it deep inside for another opportunity.

“Hey, so let’s go back to my place to get your backpack and I’ll walk you back to the metro station when you’re ready to go home,” Greta offered. “That way we have more time to keep conversing.”

“Okay, good plan Greta.” The two girls got up and walked the six blocks to the musician’s apartment. Halfway to their destination, Greta reached over and held Adena’s hand shyly, in the night’s cover.

Once inside, Adena excused herself to the bathroom while Greta put the little brown bag of leftover chicken fricassée she was carrying, in her fridge. “Boy, sorry, I had to really use the bathroom. That lemonade tonight was so good I drank three glasses. I would have never made it home with a full bladder,” Adena chuckled.

“Cool, glad I could provide the free toilet service,” Greta grinned, leaning against the kitchen counter. “So-oh. . . there’s your backpack on the chair, me lady. You are welcome to hang out as long as you want. Just move it by the front door so you don’t forget it.”

Adena reached for the bag and walked it to the front door, dropping it on the floor adjacent to the entrance, just below the hooks on the wall displaying Greta’s many marathon medals. Adena ran her index finger through them, “Wow, that’s some collection you have going there,” she said, as the objects made a metallic clinking noise, swinging, tapping into each other.

Greta left the kitchen and stood right next to Adena. “Yep, now you see why my knee is shit and no longer can take another marathon,” she jested, glancing with nervous eyes at the beautiful Persian in front of her. There was a long, uncomfortable pause, then Greta continued, “But. . . .it was all worth it. The pain was worth the end reward. . . and, I’d do it all again, given the chance,” she said in a low tone.

“For. Sure.” Adena nodded, staring back, feeling her cheeks flushed and hot.

Greta felt the sexual tension building in the room and said, “Uh. . . Come, let’s sit on my couch for a spell and chat.” She clumsily kicked the leg of the sofa as she made her way to sit down and Adena snickered, following her lead.

The girls sat on the green futon for another hour talking, before Adena decided to go home, seeing as Greta had heavy, tired eyes. She stood and took her backpack from the floor and spun around to face the apartment door, remembering they still needed to have that serious conversation.

“The night’s so refreshing that I don’t mind escorting you to the nearby metro station, Adena,” Greta said, as she put on her leather jacket and grabbed her keys, walking close behind the artist.

Stepping forward towards the front entry, Adena suddenly stopped and slowly turned around to face Greta, her mouth falling half open trying to speak but failing. While the two women silently gazed into each other’s eyes, Greta took two small steps closer and Adena raised her free hand, softly caressing Greta’s cheek with her thumb, “Um?...”

The taller woman’s eyes narrowed in response to the questioning Adena. But the dull ‘thud’ of the backpack dropping to the floor encouraged her to proceed further, encircling her hands around the artist’s waist nervously, pulling her forward and pressing their foreheads together. The fire in Adena’s eyes told Greta she wanted to release her carnal desires as much as Greta did. Their breaths became labored as soft lips ghosted over each other’s, as body heat rose and hearts raced.

“A-Adena. . .what, w-what are we?” The musician stuttered holding the artist by the hips, pulling her forward, pressing their bodies together until there was no more room in between them. Adena remained silent and Greta asked again, but now in a more desperate tone, “Please. . . I need to know.”

Adena sighed slowly, wetting her lips, “I’m in love with you, Greta. . .but. . . I also love Kat. I-I wish there were different circumstances under which you and I met. . .I wish we would have met three- - four years sooner, before my life got complicated. I wish-“

“Shhhh. . .” Greta pressed two fingers to Adena’s soft, full lips. “I don’t care, baby. I love you, too. . . .and I want this tonight. . . .all of it with you.”

Chapter Text

Greta led Adena up the familiar spiral staircase once again, soft feminine hand guiding the other’s, up and across the creaky parquet floor leading to the big, inviting bed.

They stood face-to-face, Greta undressing Adena, kissing and caressing every inch of her body delicately, unhurriedly like it was their last time together and this moment must last a lifetime. “Let me take care of you. You just watch, Okay?” Greta murmured.

“Greta?”. . . .Adena said in a strangled voice. “I don’t want you to think I’m using you. We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

“Shhhh, I want to. It’s gonna be okay baby. . . .it’s going to be okay.”

At this moment, all Greta longed for was to be close and intimate with Adena, knowing what was about to happen on her bed was just a temporary bandaid to her heartache. So, she took off Adena’s top, kissing down her jaw, neck, sternum, over her covered full breasts. Then gently pushed her down on the bed and straddled her, taking off her own top and bra while the artist watched with jaw dropped. Adena sat up and Greta slipped her bralette off over her head, pushing her back down into pillows, following the same kissing pattern as before, like it was a roadmap of Adena’s upper body. She hovered over each breast, licking circles around the tender nipples, blowing warm air on them before gently sucking and gracing her teeth over the erect points. All Adena could do was mercilessly observe and arch her back, groaning and moaning under Greta’s spell, “Mmmmm. . . .so good!”

Greta continuing her journey further south to Adena’s pants, undoing the belt and unsnapping the metal button, only pausing to slowly lick back up to her right earlobe, whispering, “Do you want me to use it tonight?”

Consumed with desire, Adena answered, “I want you to use everything tonight, baby.”

Greta sat up on her knees and pulled Adena’s pants and underwear off simultaneously, tossing all the collective garments off the bed onto the floor. She took a minute to worship the goddess displayed before her, with erect pink nipples and her dark, curly hair between her legs. The musician licked her lips in anticipation of what was to follow, then raked the fingertips of both hands from Adena’s hip bones down both her legs, to her toes, creating goosebumps and watching her reaction. “I’ll be right back,” she said kissing Adena’s feet and hopped off the bed.

- - - - -
The bedroom was fairly dark, less the bit of light radiating up from the kitchen below. Adena was being pressed into the soft mattress by a heavier frame from above. With knees bent and ankles wrapped around a waist, her nails clawed at Greta’s muscular back as she rhythmically thrust deeply inside her, both lovers panting into necks. “Ohh!” The rubber dildo rubbed Adena in the right spot, but she knew she needed more to release the tight coil that had built up inside her loins.

“Are you close?” Greta panted with anticipation.

“Mmhmm. . . . but I don’t want to cum yet,” Adena replied panting as well, as she tightly clutched Greta’s back to hold on. “I want you to talk dirty to me.”

Greta lifted her head up and stared into blown pupils, receiving a devilish smile from her lover below. She pressed her lips over Adena’s and gave her a deep, languid kiss, before pausing and muttering into her mouth, “Okay, naughty girl. . . .I’m gonna go down and eat you ‘til you beg. . . . No, ‘til you scream for me to stop.”

“Uh-huh. . . .” Adena closed her eyes and groaned, while Greta thrusted and rotated her hips some more.

“I’m going to make you cum so many times. . . .you’re going to have trouble walking down the stairs when we’re done.”

Adena’s head was thrashing back and forth on the pillow, as Greta kissed and nipped at her neck. The sensation of their breasts pressing together was electrifying. She felt intoxicated as she fantasized about her lover’s mouth between her legs.

Greta raised her head up again to look into wanton eyes, “Hey. . . .hey, open your eyes and look at me, Adena. I want you to look at me when I talk to you.”

Adena followed the request and Greta smirked at her, causing her to do the same back.

- - - - -
They made love into the early morning until their exhausted bodies finally succumbed to sleep. The brightness of the morning sun snuck in through the small octagonal porthole window above the bed, waking the blonde first. Adena remained asleep on her stomach and Greta snuck out of bed, donning on new panties and a robe from her closet, tip-toeing down the wrought iron stairs.

She used the washroom and made breakfast, returning to the bedroom as the coffee brewed, crawling back underneath warm covers, and ghosting her lips up and down Adena’s bare back.

“Guten morgen, Ms. El-Amin! Did I ever mention you have the nicest, most kissable back?” Greta snickered and planted open mouth kisses all over Adena’s back.

“Hmmm.....Sobh bekheir, Ms. Von Stein!”

“I made you,” ... Kiss, kiss, kiss. “Breakfast and,” ... Kiss, kiss, kiss. “Coffee. Do you want me to bring it upstairs?”

“No, I’ll go down there. I need to use the bathroom. . . .IF I can walk,” Adena laughed and rolled Greta onto her back, straddling her and rubbing her open palms slowly over soft breasts, bending down to plant a big loud kiss on her lips. “Thank you for last night. I’m sooo glad I stayed.”

“I’m sooo glad you stayed too and. . . .came. . . .how many times?” Greta batted her eyelashes like a flirty teenager and Adena slapped her thigh. “Hey, that’s going to leave a mark!”

“Good!”

Greta reached up and began tickling Adena’s sides. Adena screeched, “No, no! Stop! You’re gonna make me pee myself on top of you! I have to go badly!”

- - - - -
After breakfast the lovers were back upstairs tangled in bed. The wireless speakers in the bedroom played a soft melody in the background, as the two had a good, honest talk about Adena’s feelings, New York, and Kat Edison. Adena laid on her side with her head on Greta’s chest, and Greta was semi-propped up on pillows, gently massaging the artist’s scalp.

“I get it, I fell in love with the girl whose heart is already taken. You disclosed that to me on our first night together.”

Greta’s feelings had grown more intense rather than abated for Adena, even after realizing she wasn’t going to get over Kat. She admitted this to the photographer weeks ago, prompting Adena to ask that their sexual encounters stop. But Greta had assured her that she would be fine keeping it as a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship.

“You know what’s pathetic, Greta? I don’t even know If Kat will take me back. But what happened to us last October, here in Paris, was a mistake. The breakup was a mistake. I’m not over her and I need to try, to find out if she still feels the same way. . . If her heart still aches as much for me as mine aches for her. . . . Do you think I’m crazy for trying?”

Greta didn’t reply right away. She closed her eyes and tried to contain her true emotions. She was a fool romantically in love with this woman who couldn’t reciprocate the same feelings back to her. She wanted to beg Adena not to go, to stay and fall in love with her, instead. To realize that Kat may not change and was a bigger fool for not running after her in Paris, that October night. But instead she simply said, “I’m ... I’m gonna miss you, Adena. More than you’ll ever know.”

Adena looked up at Greta and saw a tear escaping from the corner of her eye, running down her face. Adena scooted up and laid on the same pillow besides her, wiping the side of her cheek with her thumb.

“I’m so, so very sorry Greta, I’m a crappy person for leading you on. I’m sorry I hurt you.” Adena’s head bowed and her own tears spilled onto Greta’s shoulder. She felt another kind of heartache for Greta, one that she couldn’t define. A deep and dull pain, true sadness. She knew the musician would always hold a special place in her heart.

Greta turned towards Adena and rubbed her shoulder, sweetly consoling her, “Hey. . . . Hey, you are not a crappy person. You are a beautiful girl.” Adena looked up with fresh tears. “We are both adults, and I made the decision to remain in this relationship, no matter how it’s defined. And, I have no regrets whatsoever. I’d do it all again.” Greta repeated her first statement, brushing Adena’s hair away from her face, looking deeply into her eyes, “ You are my beautiful girl. My B-G, and I will always remember you as such. . . . And, I hope Kat realizes how lucky she is, and treats you kind, and loves you with all her heart. Because that’s what you deserve, babe.”

The girls embraced and Adena sniffled while Greta held her close, kissing her on the nose. Greta decided to change the mood by diverting Adena’s thoughts, “Hey, did you know I once read nose-kissing was the favored form of affection in ancient Egypt?”

“Oh? Are you sure it wasn’t your Egyptian goddess girlfriend from NYU who told you this.”

“Maybe? . . . Also, the ancient Egyptians had small hip tattoos made to remember a love lost.”

“Hmmm? Now I think you’re making things up,” Adena chuckled.

“No, it’s true. I swear on my Fender guitar.” Greta held her palm up then pushed back a bit to look into Adena’s eyes. “So . . . . I want you to go with me to a tattoo parlor. I’m going to get, ‘Beautiful Girl’ inked on my upper left thigh. But I want to do it in Farsi, so you have to help and write it out for me.”

“Oh, I feel really honored and touched. You sure?” Adena questioned with a furrowed forehead.

“Yep. Affirmative. It’ll have double meaning for me . . . my first hit song and . . . you,” Greta softly smiled, swallowing a big lump in her throat.

“Okay, I’m in.” Adena giggled and pulled Greta’s face towards her with her hands to kiss her lips.

Greta pulled the bedsheets back and scooted herself down to Adena’s thighs. Running her finger over Adena’s small upper-thigh tattoo, asking, “Remind me once more what this one translates to.”

“It’s by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. It says, ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ I got it when I was 21, after I broke up with my first girlfriend in Amsterdam. . . . My Maman always says something similar, ‘Heartbreak will make you wiser’ . . . and she’s right. Anyhow, that tattoo brought me closure, some how.”

Greta rubbed the inked phrase again, kissing it and returning up to Adena’s side above.

- - - - -
The girls showered then left the apartment late morning, walking through busy city streets, holding hands and indulging in the closeness they had built throughout the last three months.

They boarded a bus headed to the north part of Paris, dropping them both off across from ‘Tin-Tin Tatouages’. “No, don’t worry, my ex, Engel, no longer works here. She’s moved to southern France with her latest conquest,” Greta confessed to Adena as they walked towards the brightly decorated storefront.

Inside, the women were greeted by a muscular female tattoo artist with a big, colorful dragon inked across her upper torso and down her arms. Her tiny halter-top covered a portion of it, but Adena could make most of it out. “Greta, mein Freund!” The two hugged warmly in front of Adena. “Bonjour, I am Vanna.”

“Bonjour, Adena.” Firm handshakes were exchanged and Vanna led the girls to the back of the shop.

Greta explained what she wanted Vanna to create just below her left hip, on her upper thigh, and Adena provided the tattoo artist with the Farsi phrase. “I would also like to add the first five notes of the song’s chorus after the phrase.” Greta was soon pantless on her back while the electric rotary pen buzzed noisily. In a matter of no time the task was done. Adena reconfirmed it was correct. “Great!”

“Uhh, Vanna? I’d like to also get one done on the same area,” Adena spoke up. “Same phrase and musical notes, but in German.” Adena held out the pen and pad of paper towards Greta.

“I’m touched, but . . . are you sure? How would you ever explain it to Kat if she saw it?”

“I’d tell her the truth, that it is from a song a dear friend wrote me. A loving soul who helped me get through the darkest of times these last few months.” Adena nodded and handed off the items to Greta.

Adena pulled her pants down and got on the table. With both tattoos completed, the two happy customers paid and exited the business.

“Vanna has an incredible physique,” Adena exclaimed.

“Yes, she does. She and her partner are weightlifters. They met in rehab some 20-odd-years-ago, and they say tattoos and weights saved them both. Funny how life works, eh? My mum says you are handed your destiny when you’re born and cannot change it no matter how hard you try. Mums can be so deep some times,” Greta chuckled.

Chapter Text

The plane ticket was reserved under Adena El-Amin for Sunday, May 5th, leaving on the red-eye from Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was Friday morning, two days before her flight, and Adena, the queen of packing and traveling, was sitting on the floor wearing her NYU hoodie, filling two extra-large suitcases for her trip. Trying not to overstuff the bags with unnecessary items, she had also packed a few heavy cardboard shipping boxes with her left-over apartment items and winter clothes. These she’d leave, along with some cash, with Odette to mail to her in the future. There was also a box of clothes that she had planned to give away open in the middle of the room.

Adena had put her landlord on notice that she may be vacating her apartment at the end of the upcoming four-month lease, if she decided to make New York City her permanent home. But trying to keep her Paris options open, she’d also considered keeping the small flat with the possibility of subleasing it to a young female artist from Iran. But that was all still up in the air.

Close to lunchtime, Adena took a break from packing when she got a call from Firuze, updating her on the photo gig with Scarlet Magazine. “Allo?”

“I spoke to Martha, who is one of the three Scarlet front desk receptionists. She told me Jane Sloan and Jacqueline Carlyle are actually working on a story about Pamela Dolan.”

“Dolan? The Cruella de Ville of photography? Adena responded.

“Yes, I remember people in various art circles saying she is a bear to work with, as she’s egotistical and unreasonably demanding. Apparently the new portraits Scarlet requested are for that story. Martha said there are five models scheduled to come to her building to be photographed by you.”

“Ahhh .... that’s very interesting. I also once overheard a photographer’s assistant, at a shoot I collaborated on, saying Dolan treated her models terribly, to the point of cruelty. I wonder if those models have teamed up against Dolan? .... If Scarlet is going to expose her?”

“Exactly what I’m thinking! This story could be very interesting, no? Anyhow, Martha had called to inform me that the documents were all approved by the Magazine’s Board of Directors and you will get compensated the day after the photoshoot. The word is, Ms. Carlyle is very excited to have you do the work. You impressed her so much with the ‘Body Positivity’ shoot, Adena. Well done!”

“Great, really fantastic!” Adena responded proudly. “Hey, so I emailed you a file with all the material for the upcoming New York gallery showing. Let me know if you have any questions or problems with the document. I am recycling all the Paris placards that will go under each photo and will bring them with me, so that’s one less thing for you to prepare.”

“Yes Adena, I have already opened and viewed all the works. They are fabulous.”

“Good, you know what to do when you contact Jasper for printing and mounting. I want them all the same size prints, as previously discussed, on conservative grade matting, with a border to overlap 8 centimeters all around, and an understated black frame to finish each off. Make sure he knows we are hanging them all up on walls.”

“Okay, got it. Ummm? .... I saw there is a photo of Kat in the bunch.” Firuze was apprehensive about asking Adena about this, but her curiosity overcame her uneasiness.

Adena did not mind Firuze’s inquisitiveness, “Yes, yes there is. It was on a memory card from Paris Fashion Week that I had forgotten about. I took that in Kat’s apartment the day before meeting her parents, several months before.”

“It’s very lovely, joon. I understand why you are including it in the collection.”

Adena sighed, “It took me a long time to decide if I should print it. But, I cannot deny Kat is part of my past and played a big role in my life in America, Firuze. So I feel she has to be part of this series.”

“Well, she’s going to be touched to see the photograph hanging in the gallery.”

“Ooooh. . . . I wouldn’t presume that she’s going to see it there. I’m not sure if I will tell her about the gallery nor the photo. But, perhaps some day I will send the print to Kat. Maybe after I return to Paris you can give it to her for me.”

“Adena, maybe you’ll have a change of heart and give it to her yourself, before you leave, perhaps after you both see each other at Scarlet Magazine, no? Surely you will want to have a conversation one night, now that six months have gone by and you are both more emotionally stable with your feelings for the other, to clear the air....so to speak?”

“I don’t know...I just don’t know,” Adena said shaking her head. “I have to think about that one before making a decision. It makes me anxious .... But I must go now. Thank you, a million times, thank you. I will see you soon, Aziz-am.

Firuze wished her safe travels, noting she looked forward to picking Adena up at LaGuardia Airport on Sunday, and the call ended. Adena frowned to herself as she put her phone in her back pocket, contemplating Firuze’s suggestion regarding Kat. But she couldn’t deny she was beginning to get excited about the thought of speaking to Kat in person, even if it was just a simple hello.

- - - - -
Pulling the plastic tray outward, Adena loaded the heavy parchment placard into the compact laser printer. The device quietly hummed, churning out its final product. “Hmmm, okay that’s that,” she whispered to herself and read the small card aloud:

KAT EDISON, SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR @ SCARLET MAGAZINE
* Brave & Compassionate Friend, Lover, Social & Political Fighter *

Tucking the item neatly away in her camera bag, with the rest of the placards for her next showing, the artist finished up some last minute packing and carried both bags to the front door, placing them side-by-side.

Knock , knock, knock! .... “Who is it?”

“It’s me, I come bearing food and dessert for the traveler!” It was noon and Adena was ready to relax and eat.

She opened the door and hugged Greta. “Oh, me so hungry!” The two had made plans for lunch and to spend the rest of the weekend together, relaxing quietly in the apartment.

“Ah, I see you’ve finished all your packing.”

“Yes, I wanted to be done so we can just focus on being lazy together.”

“Well then, lazy will be my middle name this weekend,” Greta said as she pecked Adena’s lips and unpacked the food from white bags.

Adena held Greta from behind by the waist, peering over her shoulder, “Yum, this smells so good! Did you also buy me chocolate cannolis? You are the best!”

“Yes B-G! Hey, how’s your tat doing? Mine is peeling a bit and itchy.”

“Not so bad, just a little scab.”

“Mmmm, I’ll have to look at it later?” Greta giggled.

The girls ate, watched a French rom-com, then took a big nap together. The only interruptions came in the evening from Zareen and Maman’s group FaceTime call to wish Adena a safe trip overseas, and the next door neighbors dropping off an ‘I *heart* Paris’ T-shirt as a going-away gift for Adena.

“Thank you, guys! All this time living here and I never got one of these. I’ll think of you when I wear it in New York.”

The rest of the weekend was spent just like Adena and Greta wanted, relaxing and enjoying their time together like good friends do.

- - - - -
On late Sunday night, Greta accompanied an anxious Adena to the airport, insisting she wanted to help carry her large bags and see that she was safely sent off. The two arrived extra early, making sure Adena could reserve a window seat on the flight. Seat assignments were first-come-first-served on this airliner, and she liked having a window to gaze out of when she was awake, plus it made it nice to be able to sleep undisturbed by passengers who needed to stand up to use the restroom frequently.

“Well, I got my window and got rid of those two monstrosities,” Adena said shaking her shoulders and hips. “I’m feeling less nervous now. Thanks so much Greta, for all your help and the good company, this weekend and in the cab ride and here.”

“Always happy to help, you know that. So, what do you want to do now? We have an extra hour to kill before you must go to your gate.”

“Uhm, let’s get a bite to eat as I won’t see another meal until 6 AM tomorrow. Come, I’ll show you some good airport eateries.”

“Isn’t that an oxymoron. . . . Good and airport?”

“Come on picky, I’ll find you something you’ll like.” Adena hooked her arm around Greta’s and pulled her along.

- - - - -
The girls sat at a small booth in the vegetarian area of the food court, eating bowls of kale salads and drinking pomegranate juice. The airport was not as crowded as usual since it was late at night and only a few flights left on the red eye.

“Sooo. . . .three weeks, maybe four?” Greta muttered, looking at Adena’s eyes sheepishly. Greta already knew the answer to her question, but nonetheless she asked it in hopes of receiving a different response.

Adena’s expression was genuine and sincere as she carefully chose her words to reply. “We talked about this before.... I’m planning on three weeks but hoping for more, joon.”

Greta nodded slowly to show Adena she understood, then reached across the table to hold the artist’s hands. “Adena, if you ever return to Paris, and if....you’re single, will you look me up again?”

Adena’s eyes got watery. “Yes, of course. You mean so much to me, Greta. What we have is a lovely bond.”

“You promise?”

“I promise, Aziz-am,” Adena quickly replied squeezing their hands tighter.

“Adena, I just want you to know how awfully lucky I feel to have met you.”

“Now isn’t THAT also an oxymoron. . . .awfully lucky?” Adena smiled and joked to calm the mood. She didn’t want Greta nor herself sobbing with emotions.

They spent the rest of their precious time together laughing and reminiscing about all the good times they had shared, clearing the empty containers off the table and discarded it all in the trash and recycle bins when the food court closed down for business. Then they used the ladies’ room before strolling to the TSA checkpoint, where only passengers were allowed beyond the X-ray machines.

“We have 12 more minutes, come let’s sit down on those sofas over there, Greta.” Adena held Greta’s hand as they walked together.

Both girls sat facing and mirroring the other, with one knee tucked under, and arm laid over the top of the couch, fingers laced.

“Thank you so much for everything, Greta. For these wonderful past three months. I believe you were put in my life when I needed a friend, a lover, a confidant, and I don’t know if I could have found my courage to return to America again if it hadn’t been for you, my friend.”

“Wha-?” Greta tilted her head with questioning eyes.

So Adena continued, softly rubbing her upper arm. “I know that this may not make sense, that our intimate relationship was actually a catalyst for my wanting to try again with my ex, but it was. Because it helped build up my self-esteem again, my courage, my artistic inspiration.”

“Damn it!” Greta snapped her fingers in the air. “Note to self, don’t be so frickin’ charming next relationship.” Greta gave Adena a half-smile. . . . “Can I kiss you?”

“Uh-huh.”

The two girls inched slowly towards each other, not breaking their intimate stare. Adena softly caressed Greta’s face and closed her eyes, and Greta placed her hands on Adena’s shoulders pulling her closer. They kissed tenderly like they were the only ones in the airport for what seemed like a lifetime. Until they heard the announcement over the airport’s P.A.

“Ladies and gentlemen, flight #777 will now be opening its gate for check-ins. Please proceed to gate #19 with your passports and tickets.” The same message was repeated in five different languages.

The girls smiled and hugged tightly on the couch before standing up and walking towards the back of the security-check line. “Well this is it, Adena. You behave yourself and keep in touch, if you want to,” a tearful Greta said, and Adena gave her another hug.

Adena didn’t let go of Greta’s hand until it was her turn to place her bags and shoes on the conveyor belt. She turned around and gave the musician one more big hug and peck on the lips. “I’ll miss you, Aziz-am. Take good care of your self and I will catch your first tour in America when Dame IV becomes famous.... I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Greta watched as Adena walked through the X-ray equipment, got padded down, and grabbed her bags on the other side. She briefly stopped to place her hand over her heart and threw a kiss. Greta threw one back and waved, watching her walk away until she disappeared.

Chapter Text

Once seated in the aircraft, Adena felt emotional exhaustion from all the excessive stress she’d had in the past two months, in both work and her personal life. She had a lot on her mind between the trip overseas, Greta and Kat. She tried to sleep in vain as the plane gained altitude. So she decided it best to not fight it and pulled out her old diary she had bought in Morocco. Journaling helped her deal with her raw emotions of the first four months after leaving New York, so it was a good time to revisit the tattered book.

She immersed herself in the vast pages of her writings, letting tears flow freely in some chapters, and smiling widely in others. But she soon grew sleepy and the ink on the pages swam before her eyes, so she closed and put the journal between her thighs, reclined back, and let her heavy lids close.

Some time later, Adena’s nap was unexpectedly interrupted when a bout of turbulence jolted the sleepy girl awake. She sat up straight and massaged the kink in the back of her neck, wondering how long she’d been asleep. The time on her cellphone read 4 AM and her bladder was full. “I’m sorry to bother you sir, but I need to get out and use the aircraft lavatory,” she said to the older gentleman snoozing next to her. The kind man stood up and scooted out of her way, and Adena walked down the long narrow aisle to the back of the plane, holding on to tops of seats as it softly swayed up and down. Surprisingly there was no line in front of the lavatory, but the sign on the door read ‘occupied’. Adena waited patiently for her turn until there was a ‘click’ signaling a person was coming out. As the metal door swung open, a small framed woman wearing a niqab, masking all but her eyes, exited. It was visibly clear that the young women with piercing eyes was very pregnant. Adena smiled and said, “Congratulations!” Then entered the cramped room to take care of business. Washing her hands and splashing cool water on her face and nape of the neck, Adena felt refreshed again and returned to her seat.

Surprisingly, her seat mate was no longer a man, but rather the pregnant Iranian woman from the restroom. “Oh, I-I’m sorry to bother you, but that’s my seat on your other side.” The woman drew herself up and shuffled and Adena scooted in and sat down, buckling her seatbelt.

“I was saving it for you, joon,” the woman replied in English with an accent.

This caused Adena to look up at the girl with brows narrowed and lips parted, not understanding. “I’m sorry, was that your father sitting there before?”

“I know you really wanted that window seat and I was guarding it while you were in the lavatory.”

“Okay? .... I’m sorry, do I know you?” Adena now felt really baffled by this whole encounter.

The woman nodded her head up-and-down twice and turned to reach under the seat in front of her, pulling out a small digital camera. “Let me show you these pictures, you will enjoy them very much.” She began clicking through sceneries of Teheran. Most of which were familiar to Adena, as they were of popular landmarks throughout the city of her childhood. “Alright, these next ones are really, really special to me.”

The images were blurry so Adena asked if she could hold the camera to get a closer look. “May I see that?” And the woman happily obliged.

Adena blinked a couple of times to clear her dry eyes and turned on the overhead light above her seat. What happened next was astounding, the pictures all became visible. They were of a Persian wedding. The bride wore a beautiful beaded gown and hijab and her hands were covered in an elaborate henna design. The bride’s face wasn’t visible in any of the photos, always turned away or hiding behind a large bouquet of flowers, or thick veil. So, Adena kept clicking to reveal more shots, trying to see the woman’s face.

“Oh, what you’re looking for is here . . . . Let me show you these last photos,” The women explained, taking the camera back from Adena’s hands.

“Mmhmm?”

“A-ha! There you go, Adena.”

Adena took the camera and saw a photograph of the bride, still with her face hidden, holding a toddler with long curly black locks. She clicked to the next frame and it was the exact same photo, but this time a second bride stood by the child, holding the bride’s hand .... It was Kat!

“WHAT?!”

Click-click! .... Adena’s eyes sprung open and her body stiffened. She looked up and found the clicking noise was being made by the elderly man next to her reaching up, turning off his overhead light. “Oh, so sorry Miss. Did I wake you with my light? My old, tired eyes have trouble seeing clearly in such dim places. I was just trying to look at my watch for the time.”

Wide eyed, Adena felt groggy and disoriented, but replied, “Is okay. Did you see which way the girl sitting next to me went?”

“There’s no woman here, just me Miss. You must have been dreaming.” The man let out a small laugh and turned his head to look across the aisle, towards the rest of his family.

“Yeah, yeah I must be delirious. It’s been a hectic couple of days for me,” Adena mumbled, hands trembling on her lap and heart pounding.

- - - - -
The warm sunlight began sneaking in through opened windows, and stewardesses began serving breakfast from their carts to hungry passengers. It would take a bit to reach Adena’s row, so she thought she’d kill some time by journaling some more:

“May 3, 2019, Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, Adena El-Amin, the great nomad, is going MAD!!! Just had the craziest dream ever. Apparently I sat next to MYSELF on this flight, pregnant...YES, with child (LOL), and showed myself my future in stills from a simple digital camera. I’m going to marry Kat Edison and have a baby?! Yes you may laugh, A LOT, when you re-read this in a few years. I don’t know why I keep having these crazy, lucid dreams about Kat. I may have to seek professional help in NYC!”

“Excuse me Miss, what would you like to drink?” Breakfast finally reached Adena’s row and she never realized how ready she was for airplane coffee. She was handed her beverage and a small plastic tray of food. She continued perusing her diary as she ate. Once empty trays were cleared, she decided to use some spare pages in the back of the book to write a few short letters. “I’ll mail the correspondence once I’m settled in New York City,” she whispered. She scribbled a few paragraphs to Maman, Zareen, and Greta, in that order. She even thought of writing a quick note to Kat.

- - - - -
The flight touched down with a screech in JFK Airport after nine hours. Adena waited in line to exit the craft, walking down several narrow corridors with the rest of the passengers. She spent the next 20 minutes alertly looking back and forth trying to spy a pregnant Iranian women with a flowery niqab, but this person did not exist.

As promised, in the wee morning hours of New York, Firuze was waiting at the airport’s greeting area with a big smile and a bunch of daisies. Adena adored the older Persian woman, who had always been like a big sister to her, looking out for her in business and in her personal life.

“Adena-joon, so good to see you again. I’ve missed your sweet face.” The old friends embraced and headed for the luggage carousel, and then took a cab to Adena’s temporary apartment.

“Wow, this truly is fantastic! I’ve died and gone to New York heaven, Firuze,” Adena twirled around twice with opened arms in the flat’s foyer.

“I told you you were going to absolutely die of joy when you saw it. And, look at that amazing white kitchen island. It is completely made out of marble, sides and all!” Firuze walked to the kitchen, wiping her hands over the counter.

The women took a quick tour of the posh apartment then Firuze had to run off to a meeting on the other side of town. “Remember, Jane Sloan is going to call you first thing tomorrow morning to meet with you near the Scarlet building. You’ll then go together to see Ms. Carlyle about the photo shoot. Good luck and come by the office to see me after your meeting. Ciao Bella!”

“Yes, thank you for everything, Aziz-am. I owe you big time!”

- - - - -
As soon as Adena was alone, she decided to unpack her monster suitcases. There were lots of empty drawers in the massive walk-in closet and satin padded hangers galore for her work clothes. As she reached the bottom of the first suitcase, adena came across a pink tissue paper-wrapped item with blue lace knotted around it. A small folded note with familiar handwriting was taped under the lace bow. Adena unwrapped the present first and found Greta had added a stowaway amongst her things. It was her 2019 Paris Marathon Race tank top, and the note attached read:

“Dearest Adena,

I want you to keep this as a momento of our Paris time together. All I could think about during that grueling run was you, as tears of pain ran down my cheeks from my knee throbbing. Visions of your smile and all your sweet gestures, carb snacks, warm tub baths, etc, kept me going through the most demanding parts of the marathon, especially half race when I hit that dreaded runner’s wall. So it’s only fitting that you hang on to this shirt. I expect you to wear it proudly whenever you jog through those NYU streets, because you earned it.

You are going to kick photography-butt at Scarlet Magazine. I will be at the Gestault newsstand to buy the first issue that features your work. Hot off the presses!

I will miss you more than you’ll ever know.

All my love beautiful girl,

Greta.”

Chapter Text

1 ~~~

“Dearest Maman,

I’m writing to you today, 67,000 Km above the Atlantic Ocean, to tell you how much I love and appreciate you every day. I know I don’t say this enough, so I want you to have it in writing. This way you can pull it out of your bureau and read it as many times as you’d like, because you deserve it, sweet Maman.

Thank you for always supporting my life-choices, even when it brought you turmoil at home with Baba. I know I haven’t been the best daughter nor followed the best paths, but they were all mine to choose. Even the poor choices that brought me pain and grief, were mine.

I apologize for being a difficult teenager, for talking back to you, for sneaking out in the middle of the night with Shireen, for taking Baba’s car downtown and getting arrested, for leaving home so young. I’m sorry I caused you so many sleepless nights filled with worry. But I made it, Aziz-am, and am that strong woman you always wanted me to be.

When you are done reading this, I ask that you please press this piece of paper against your heart. It symbolizes a big hug from me to you.

Ashegh et am,

Adena”

 

2 ~~~

“Dear Petite Soeur

It’s not every day you receive a love letter from your grande soeur. So, I hope you appreciate it!!! This one is extra-special, written from 67K Km above the Atlantic, sitting next to a snoring old guy.

I’m not sure if I should even thank you for always meddling in my private love life like you do, or for pushing me to do the things I’d rather run away from forever, but I guess that’s what I’m doing, huh?

Thanks to your never ending persistence and encouragement, I’m in this airplane headed back to NYC, to chase what might be a pipe dream, as the westerners call it. A vain hope to reconcile what may be impossible with Kat Edison, the true love of my life. You were right, I cannot get her out of my head .... no matter how upset I was in Morocco, or how hard I tried in Paris.

I thank Allah (most days) for letting Maman and Baba have you. You are the greatest gift five-year-old me ever got on that warm Spring day. I still remember your little curled up body with tiny fisted hands, wailing away. You always were a feisty little one, âbji. And, who knew that little curly-haired princess would grow up to be my protector, my rock. Thank you, Aziz-am!

Come visit me in New York soon.

Ashegh et am,

Ade’h”

 

3 ~~~

“Greta-Joon,

I hope this letter finds you safe and well. I’m writing to you from high above the Atlantic, from a surreal state of mind.

It was very hard to turn and walk away from you a few hours ago. I still question why I left, if it was the right thing to do. But, they say, everything in life has a reason, a purpose. So here I am, stupidly broken hearted, numb with emotions for another.

The vast darkness of the sea far below me is a reminder of how small and insignificant one’s life can be. But it also leads me to reminisce of how much one person can make of an impact on this world and others. How a higher being must place that one person in our lives at a certain time, for a certain purpose. You are that person, Greta. You are sweet, kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and talented. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently or cramp your style.

I’m going to miss you and will never forget you. And if you are mad at me for leaving and never want to communicate again, I will understand. I will never hold it against you and wish you nothing but the best in life.

Thank you, thank you for everything, my good friend!

Love,

Adena”

 

4~~~

“Dear Kat,

I don’t even know how to begin this letter to you. Guess I’m a stupid, hopeless romantic who - - “

 

Adena gave up on this 4th letter and closed the journal, reclining her seat back and turning to look out the passenger cabin window. . . .

Chapter Text

At 7:30 AM sharp, on Tuesday May 7th, Adena’s cellphone rang. The caller I.D. read ‘Scarlet Magazine’ and she had a good idea who was on the other end when she answered.

“Allo?”

“Hi Adena, it’s Jane. . . .Jane Sloan. . . .Looks like May showers are welcoming you back to New York City,” Jane let out a soft partly suppressed laugh.

Adena cleared her throat, “Yes, indeed they are.”

“How are you?”

I am fine, Jane. I hope you are doing well, too?”

After brief small talk, the two women set up a meeting at ‘La Finca’ coffee house at 10:30 AM to talk business. They said goodbyes and Adena strolled over to the large kitchen and started the tea kettle for some calming tea, gifted to her by Vignetta and Nicolette as a Paris going away present. Waiting for the kettle to boil, she washed and bit into an apple and threw some toast in the toaster oven. Firuze, always being so kind and thoughtful, had bought her some groceries to get her started, knowing Adena would be too tired from her long flight to run out to the store right away.

As Adena ate and drank her aromatic herbal tea, she scrolled through her emails and social media for a bit, then undressed and hopped in the massive walk-in shower. Adena giggled, “So many knobs, I don’t know where to begin.” It was like being at an expensive spa, gray glassy subway tiles and veined marble bench, a large rainfall shower head and handheld six-pattern water massager, plus a steam function. “Wow, six people could fit in here!” The bathroom quickly became her favorite room in the apartment.

Before dressing, Adena texted her family that she was safely in New York and would soon be on her way to Scarlet. She also sent Greta a message- -

Adena:
Hi!
I’m safe and sound in the posh apartment.
Thank u 4 the present. It was very sweet and thoughtful.
I will always wear your race shirt with pride.
Talk later...Take care, Joon.

She stared at the message for a few seconds before tapping the send-arrow, then went to her camera bag to retrieve her diary. She needed to rip out the three letters she had written on the plane and fold them individually into envelopes for mailing. She used Firuze’s office as her return address, since this was just a temporary home for her, and addressed the envelopes accordingly. Before sealing Greta’s, Adena decided to write a revised letter and ripped the old one up.

“There, these are good now,” she said to herself. She put the three envelopes in her handbag and went to get dressed.

- - - - -
Jane was right, it was a wet morning and Adena walked out of her posh place covered by an umbrella she found in the loft’s foyer, heading towards the nearby metro station. Her mind seemed to be in a fog, waiting expressionless on the grimy metro platform, as the workweek hustle and bustle of New York’s rat race pushed onward. “Grunt! .... Uhh, sorry lady, I was looking at my watch.” A businessman shoulder-bumped Adena as he urgently shoved by, trying not be late to his mundane job. The altercation snapped Adena back into reality.

The loud roaring and underground shaking signaled the approaching train that would soon take the artist uptown. The last time she saw Jane was seven months ago during Paris Fashion Week. Adena entered the train with a mob of impatient transients and found a seat in the middle of the car, next to a middle aged woman in a purple suit, curling her eyelashes. Across from her was a young woman holding a toddler on her lap, and a middle-aged man wearing a black bandana, with tattoo sleeves on both arms. Closing her eyes, Adena fell back into a dream-like state. She found herself breathing irregularly, almost having a panic attack, as she wondered what the heck she was trying to pull off, why she found herself back in the City. But luckily, the monotonous sound of the train wheels pounding under the rail car kept her grounded, concentrating on slowing down her breathing to match the beat of the thuds.

The automated subway announcement informed the passengers of the next stop, the one Adena needed, and she exited the train with the crowd. As she made her way up the metro station stairs, she retrieved her vibrating cellphone from her back pocket. It was a voice text message from Greta, responding to her earlier message. “Glad you made it safely. Good luck with your interview today. You’ll kick butt, I know you will, B-G!” Greta had probably just read her earlier message, waking up to start her day in Paris.

The rain subsided as soon as Adena emerged outside, stepping onto the wide open sidewalk. It was now three long, busy blocks to the designated meeting place. She consciously knew she was moving forward but she could not feel her feet touch the pavement. Her entire body felt numb as she approached the address where Jane waited.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled the heavy iron handle and entered the coffee shop.

- - - - -
The meeting with Jane went well. A bit awkward at first as she had imagined, but quickly got better as they talked business. Jane was friendly and kind, made her feel comfortable as they discussed the Dolan photoshoot and her project. Jane did take her aback when she announced Kat was sort of seeing someone new. Adena thought it was a funny thing to mention, since Kat had never posted anything on social media about that. Adena took this revelation as Jane’s way of protecting her best friend’s feelings.

The interaction with Jane became more and more relaxed, as the two girls walked the few blocks to the Safford Building together. However, their accidental encounter with Kat, by the 38th floor elevator lobby, was a different story.

“Adena, hi!”

“Kat, hi! Your hair, I love it!

Adena felt like throwing up from the pit of anxiety in her stomach, after that public encounter with her ex. She had to quickly regain composure and remain professional while Jane walked her over to meet with Jacqueline Carlyle and Oliver Grayson.

“Ah Adena, welcome back. So good to know you are available to shoot these photos for the Magazine. Please have a seat,” Jacqueline warmly greeted and pointed to the white leather couch.

“Hello again, Ms. El-Amin,” Oliver extended his hand out to Adena.

“So happy to be here. Thank you both so much for the opportunity.”

- - - - -
On her way back home to Chelsea, Adena remembered to stop by the post office and mailed the three letters she had inside her purse. Once settled inside the apartment, she FaceTimed Zareen to update her on Scarlet and Kat.

“So âbji, you saw her? How did she look and what did she say?”

Adena sighed. “Oh Joon, it was very awkward and nerve wracking, to say the least. She looked .... absolutely amazing and gorgeous as ever.... We hugged....She smelled so good....,” Adena rambled to her sister.

“Was she like....very glad and surprised to see you again?”

“Uhm .... more like shocked and a bit timid. When we hugged, I felt her body was tense. But the circumstances were not the best. We have so much emotionally to unpack ... I’m hoping we can have a conversation outside Scarlet at some point soon.”

“And Greta? How did she handle your return to NYC?.... Have you talked recently?.... Are you going to tell her you are planning to stay? Zareen rushed through multiple questions in a row.

“Well, as you can imagine she was heartbroken over the news of me leaving, from the start. But we left off as good friends. Hopefully we can remain close, but I don’t blame her if she stops communicating with me some day. It will make me very sad, but I have to understand where she’s coming from.” Adena took a deep breath and continued. “We’ve just briefly messaged each other. I’ve sent her a letter explaining the situation behind me staying.”

The siblings spoke for another hour and soon Zareen needed to go get ready for bed. “So text or call me again after tomorrow’s photoshoot at Scarlet. I want to know how it all goes and if you see or speak to Kat again. Don’t worry if it’s late here, I’ll pick up your calls.”

“Okay, bye-bye. I love you!” Adena ended the call and opened up Instagram to look at Kat’s feed for signs of a new love interest. But the only women in Kat’s posts, besides Jane and Sutton, we’re older campaign office workers and her campaign manager, Tia Clayton. “Hmmm, could it be her?”

- - - - -
Monday, May 13th, exactly a week after Adena had touched New York soil again, she found herself naked inside that grande, luxurious steam shower with none other than Kat Edison. It started with an innocent text message to Kat at work. She had lost the election two nights prior and Adena was genuinely concerned about her.

Adena:
Been thinking about you.
Is there something I can do to help?

Kat:
Are you home right now?
Can I come over?

Kat had reached out before the election with anxious energy and stopped by Adena’s to talk as friends. Adena thought perhaps she needed another friendly pep-talk after her loss and that was why she was coming over. The last thing Adena expected that late morning was Kat passionately kissing her after entering her pad. “Adena.... I want to kiss you so much! Oh god, I want you... Fuck, I can’t wait any longer!”

There was so much desire and passion in that first kiss, that Adena’s brain went into sexual overdrive as soon as she felt warm lips on hers. She knew this was just a lust-filled encounter, but she took what Kat was offering at that moment. “I missed you!”

“I missed you, too.”

So three exhausting hours later, there they were both naked in the shower. Adena was holding Kat from behind, pressing her breasts up against her back, letting the warm trickle of water from the water massager hit Kat’s own chest.

Kat had tied her long braids up into a bun ....”Hey, remember I don’t want to get my hair wet. I have to get to Sutton’s fashion show looking half-way-decent,” Kat chuckled.

Adena pumped a handful of lavender body wash from the wall dispenser and ran her palm up and down Kat’s back, neck, shoulders, down to her curvy bottom, lathering her up.

“I remember, that’s why we’re not using the rainfall shower head, silly. We’ll save that one for later, no?”

Kat turned in Adena’s arms and pressed their lips together, pushing her firmly into the gray glass tile and slipping her hand between Adena’s thighs. “Mmhmmm.” Adena deepened the kiss and melted into Kat’s embrace.

They finished showering and wrapped each other in large fluffy towels, walking hand-in-hand to the bedroom.

“Look, I have to really get going or Sutton’s gonna kill me.” Kat said, peppering Adena’s face with kisses. “So....then you’ll come by my loft tonight at 10?”

“Yes, I will be there and we’ll . . . .continue what we started here.” Adena answered kissing and nipping at Kat’s neck.

“Ohhhh.... I-I better find my clothes fast and dress.” Kat broke their embrace and went to the living room and kitchen to retrieve all her garments, dropped the towel and dressed in front of Adena’s watchful eyes.

“You sure you don’t want to borrow one of my clean, dry panties to wear?” Adena asked winking at Kat.

Kat finished dressing and pulled Adena against her by her hips. She whispered in her ear, “It’s okay, I’ll wear mine. It’ll remind me of you and what you do to me, when I’m on that catwalk modeling Sutton’s dress.”

Kissing one more time by the front door, Kat bid goodbye and Adena reiterated her promise to meet again at 10 PM.

- - - - -
The late night knock on Kat’s loft door signaled Adena’s presence.

“Hey....welcome back,” Kat greeted as she simultaneously pulled Adena inside by her blazer sleeves.

“How was your fashion show,” Adena asked between kisses. Kat didn’t speak and just kept kissing her. “Mmmmm, that good huh?”

The clothes started coming off again, but this time in a slower manner. The women took their time savoring each other’s bodies as skin came into contact with skin, and warm breaths feathered over faces. There was sensual eye contact and facial caresses, and Adena felt like she was falling....falling far, far and deep into the dark abyss of love.

Kat gently pushed Adena onto her bed as she panted, “What do you want to do?”

“You know what I want to do,” Kat answered.

“Mm-hmm,” Adena nodded.

The room was dimly lit by a few candles and the reflection of the street lamp below. Muffled moans and groans from the two tangled lovers carried through the apartment air.

Two hours later, Adena spooned Kat from behind as they laid peacefully together. Adena was vulnerable after having emotional sex with Kat and she confided her true feelings, “I never stopped loving you Kat.”

Kat was very moved by Adena’s words, because Adena could see tears welling up in her eyes. But Kat held back her response, her feelings not verbally reciprocated for Adena, which stung..... Adena could not deny how the silence stung....but she recovered by telling Kat, “I know you’re still seeing Tia”....and agreeing to give Kat more time to think about it, to think about them. Adena was the one this time who couldn’t do it half way, and she let Kat know that, too.

- - - - -
Two nights later Kat and Adena had plans for dinner, but Kat called and said she had a work emergency and had to cancel. At a bit past ten o’clock, Kat messaged Adena that she was finally leaving Scarlet and wanted to come by and talk in an hour. “Sure, I’ll be up waiting for you. No problem.”

Kat showed up at Adena’s apartment looking very drained, emotionally and physically. Adena knew something was up, Kat was in a stupor of sorts. “I have a fridge full of food if you want to eat?”

“It’s been an long ass day at work. I’m okay, thanks.” The two sat down on the couch and Adena waited for Kat to lead the conversation.

Fortyeight hours prior, Adena had asked Kat to give them another real shot to exclusively date once again. She felt confident that this time around they could take it slower and build on the love they already had for each other, communicating better, not hiding their problems, and always being truly open and honest. Adena was so confident Kat felt the same about dating again, that she solidified the decision to stay in New York City and spent her whole morning looking at places to live. She thought Kat was coming over this late at night to tell her yes, she’d like to try again.

But Adena had read it all wrong. The devastation and hurt that came next, from hearing Kat say, “I was looking for a distraction from my disappointment of losing the campaign.... I don’t want to jump into a relationship with you again.....I want to be alone and choose myself, right now,” was crippling.

To make matters worse, Adena had just accepted a dream-job offer from Scarlet Magazine. The previous day, Human Resources had called to offer her the coveted in-house photographer position that was vacant, and Adena accepted it happily. But now, now that Kat didn’t seem to want to be around her anymore, she felt trapped in New York.

“Yeah, Scarlet called and I said yes!” Adena informed Kat as her voice cracked.

Kat was shocked by this news, but assured Adena she was happy for her, “That’s really great....truly Adena. Congratulations.”

Adena stared at Kat for a few seconds in the uncomfortable silence of the room, tears threatening to spill over. “Well....you best go. You have an early work day tomorrow,” was all Adena could come up with to say.

“Yeah, I need to just go home and crash.” Kat stood up and gathered her purse and blazer and led the way down the entrance steps.

Adena walked Kat to the front door, with her arms crossed. They said goodbye, without a hug or a kiss. The mood was definitely somber, awkward, with low energy, unlike the one they had two days prior in this apartment.

“Okay Kat, have a good night,” Adena replied, eyes looking down at the floor, away from Kat’s.

“K- I’ll see you around, Adena.”

Kat stepped out into the muggy night and Adena closed the door, leaning her forehead against the inside door frame. “Damn it, Kat! Go FIND yourself already!” Adena suddenly felt a wave of self-pity and emotions she could no longer hold in. She turned and slid her back down the metal front door and sat on the floor, knees drawn to her chest, bawling.

- - - - -
Adena didn’t sleep much, tossing and turning all night long. The doorbell rang and roused her from sleep as the sound echoed in the apartment. She rose to her feet and threw on her silk robe, running to the intercom, “Who is it?” The hopeful side of her was wishing to hear Kat’s voice on the other side, back to apologize, regretting what she had said 12 hours ago. But instead it was the FedEx man, “Delivery for El-Amin....needs a signature.”

She loosely covered her head with a scarf and received her package, some blank canvases she had ordered for an upcoming project she had in mind.

As Adena sat down at the kitchen counter to pop two aspirins with a glass of almond milk, she said aloud, “I’m stuck here in New York, disappointed and about to work five days a week next to my ex.”

Chapter Text

1. This is the revised letter Adena mailed to Greta when she went to the post office:

 

€€€€€€€€€€

“Greta-Joon,

I hope this letter finds you safe and well. Thank you once more for your Paris Marathon race shirt. I was so touched and surprised to find it in my suitcase. I know how very special the garment is to you, especially being your last race. I promise to always cherish it and wear it with pride, knowing it was given to me with such affection and love.

You should know it was very hard for me to turn and walk away from you in that airport. I still question if leaving that safe environment I created in Paris was the right thing to do. But they say, everything in life has a reason, a purpose. So here I am back in the City with my ex, trying to find a new beginning or some closure.

During that overseas flight, the vast darkness of the sea far below reminded me of how small and insignificant one’s life can be. But it also led me to realize the big impact one person can make on this world and other lives. How a higher being must place special people in our lives at certain times, for a certain purposes. You are one of those people, Greta. At one of my darkest, lowest points in my life, you brought me light and joy.

It is with heavy heart that I must inform you I’ve decided to stay here in NY. I am currently scouting galleries for a mixed media series I want to show, and I am advertising my photography services in the local art scene. I have no doubt I’ll soon be employed. Also, I cannot lie to you, I am planning to pursue my relationship with Kat again.

You will always hold a special place in my heart and in my memories. You are sweet, kind, intelligent, beautiful and talented, among other things. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.

Thank you for everything. I will never forget you.

Adena”

€€€€€€€€€€

 

- - - - -

2. To Adena’s surprise, three weeks later Firuze handed Adena a pink envelope that came in the mail from France. Adena never expected Greta to write her back:

 

€€€€€€€€€€

“Dear Adena,

I received your letter. I’m not much of a pen and paper kinda gal, but someone wise and dear to me once said it was good for the heart to receive a letter by mail. So here is my penmanship for your heart.

I cannot lie, I am both heartbroken and happy for you. Heartbroken for obvious reasons. I had never met nor fallen for such an interesting, thoughtful, caring, and beautiful woman like you before. Our times together were so special to me, I will always cherish them and keep them deep within my heart. And, happy because you are going to be doing what you love most, your art, in a city that will open doors for you and will bring you notoriety.

Don’t forget me when you are an international renowned artist. I want a personalized copy of one of your famous pieces for my bare apartment walls. Also remember, you promised to come to my first American tour when the band becomes famous. I will save you a special backstage ticket. Just tell the bouncer you know the bassist personally and say, “I’m B-G.”

If you ever find yourself in Paris again, looking for a friend, I will be at ‘Lettres D’amour Bistro’ every Sunday morning drinking coffee and writing music.

Take care and stay safe. I love you, beautiful girl!

Greta”

€€€€€€€€€€