Outside, snow fell at a steady, inexorable pace, blanketing the earth in its pristine whiteness and lulling creation into a profound slumber. In their room, however, warmth and color prevailed. Especially red: in the lush carpet, the silk bedsheets, the decorative scarves draped over the tables. After all, it was their favorite color. A cozy fire crackled in the fireplace, and a few dim electric lights gave the interior a peaceful glow.
Grelle combed her wife’s hair with the reverence of a high priestess paying homage to her deity. The two of them were preparing to retire for the night, and it was their custom to remove the day’s accumulated knots and tangles from one another’s tresses—each adored having the other play with her hair. An was perched on the edge of the bed, idly kicking her legs and smiling to herself as her eyes closed in contentment. Grelle sat behind her, one leg tucked in, the other extended and pressed against An’s side. Grelle privately marveled at An’s flowing locks, which now reached the small of her back. A while ago, Grelle had begged her to grow it out (‘We’d match even more than we already do, darling! Think of the possibilities!’), and the result was stunning. Soft as a feather or wisp of cloud, yet as fearsomely, unabashedly scarlet as Grelle’s.
“Has Rachel’s chap Tanaka ever told you that story about the red string of fate?” Grelle asked out of the blue. An opened her rust-colored eyes, unsurprised by the seemingly nonsensical inquiry. Over the past few years, she had grown accustomed to her wife’s sudden flights of fancy.
“I haven’t,” she replied in her velveteen contralto. “Would you care to tell me, dear?”
“Oh, yes! He brought it up when I was visiting Rach the other day for tea.” The current Queen’s Watchdog might be fair-haired, sweet as honey, and delicate of constitution, but her bold heart and ribald sense of humor were well-aligned with Grelle’s flamboyant disposition. When Grelle met Rachel at a party at An’s place, they instantly took a shine to one another. Quicker than you can say Jack Robinson, a close friendship had blossomed between the two women. In fact, Rachel went on to play an instrumental role in giving a hesitant Angelina the push she needed to confess her true feelings to Grelle. ‘The poor thing had absolutely no idea how infatuated with her you are!’ Rachel guffawed afterwards when recounting her efforts to Grelle. Their bond had only grown stronger over the course of Grelle’s marriage, and she and Rachel were thick as thieves.
“Well, Tanaka happened to look over when I was plucking a hair from my sleeve—I do tend to shed in winter, don’t I?—and he remarked that the Sutcliff women’s hair was our ‘red string.’ I asked him what on earth he meant by that, and he explained that, when the heavens ordain that two souls are destined to become lovers, the gods connect them with an invisible red string.”
“But what’s the point of it being red if it’s invisible?” An asked saucily, raising a quizzical eyebrow. Grelle gently smacked her on the shoulder with the back of her hand. “Oh, hush, you. The point is that, once joined together, there will always be a bond between them. The string may fray, tangle, or knot, but it will never break. For all eternity, the lovers’ hearts will be united, regardless of how time and circumstances may threaten to tear them apart.”
Grelle paused, silenced by a sudden catch in her throat. Certainly, there were plenty of forces that had contrived to separate her from An. Being the sister of the Queen’s Watchdog was a hazardous business, and An placed herself in peril for Rachel’s sake with distressing frequency. The heart-shattering night when An had nearly been murdered by conspirators against the crown, for instance, would haunt Grelle for the rest of her days. It was also a bitter reality that, in the eyes of a narrow-minded and intolerant society, the love that sustained them was reviled as an abomination, a crime. Consequently, Grelle was forced don suits every day (Ugh! Hideous! Hideous!), eschew makeup, and submit to being addressed as him and sir (How could such miniscule words sound so ugly and hurt so damn much?). If she dared to live openly as the woman she truly was, the uncomprehending mob would mock her as a delusional pervert and have her locked away in an asylum for alleged “madness.” Similarly, An concealed the fact that, under the right circumstances, a woman’s touch made her heart beat just as quickly as a man’s—she would be promptly cast out as a pariah if this secret were betrayed. Added onto this hardship was the fact that Grelle and An came from different social stations, which had led a large sector of the Dalles family to vehemently oppose An’s intent to “marry beneath her,” regardless of the fact that the rigid hierarchies of the past were gradually being eroded away. A few of her more malicious cousins had even insinuated that Grelle was a homosexual man attempting to evade detection within the dubious respectability of a lavender marriage. Oh, how she and An had laughed at their folly afterwards, although the affront had cut deeply at the time. Little did the cretins suspect that the Sutcliffs’ union was a marriage between two women!
Despite all that, they had carved out a place for themselves in this harsh, unforgiving world. In their house, Grelle could breathe freely, glide through the halls in dresses or long skirts, and paint her face to her heart’s content. An took her by the hand and called her cara sposa. Within these walls, they were the queens of their own crimson realm, where no one could touch them.
“Why, that’s lovely,” An whispered, the mistiness in her eyes hinting that her mind was dwelling on similar recollections. Putting the comb aside, Grelle leaned forward and ran her fingers through An’s hair, kissing the fiery locks. “Our red string,” she murmured worshipfully before hugging An from behind. Thus they remained, relishing the silent connection that bound them together.